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El Paso, TX — UTEP outscored Marshall 24-6 to start the second half, built an 18-point lead, then held off the Herd down the stretch for a 66-56 win on Saturday in the Haskins Center.
After an ugly first half in which both teams shot under 40 percent and played to a 27-27 tie, the Miners (11-6, 1-1 C-USA) shot 56.6 percent in the second period in running away to its first conference win of the season.
“I’m really happy about the win,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We know Marshall has had some very difficult losses on the road. They’re athletic, they’ve got talent and they came in here and played very inspired. They played really hard after they got down by 18.”
The Miners scored the first 10 points of the second half to go ahead 37-27. Six minutes later, UTEP was up 51-33. Marshall (6-11, 0-2 C-USA) went on a 21-8 run, carving an 18-point deficit down to five (60-55) with 1:37 remaining. Vince Hunter scored six of his career-high 20 points in the final 1:05 to help preserve the victory.
John Bohannon had another big game for the Miners with 18 points, 14 rebounds and a career-high tying seven assists. Julian Washburn scored 17 points as UTEP received 55 of its 66 points from three players.
“I think that’s the best effort I’ve seen John Bohannon have in his career tonight,” Floyd said. “Defensive boards, offensive boards, consistent stance on the defensive end, finishing shots. The last five out of six games he has been around six or seven assists a game. He was kind of a mistake player his first two or three years around here, and he hasn’t been that. He has been a positive influence in this transition period that we’re in with our guys, and he’s talking about the right things with our team.”
Hunter shot 6-for-7 from the field and 8-for-10 from the line. Most importantly, he was on the floor for a season-high 36 minutes and committed just two fouls.
“Vince Hunter did some really nice things tonight,” Floyd said. “He’s going to grow and get better and better. The ceiling is so high for this young man.”
After an uncharacteristic showing in their league opener versus Charlotte on Thursday, the Miners got back to their staples in a recent five-game winning streak – rebounding and defense. UTEP controlled the glass 43-34 and held Marshall to 31.1 percent shooting, including 27.3 percent in the second half.
“The defensive field goal percentage number, that’s who we need to be in this period that we’re in right now,” Floyd said. “We may have stayed a little long with our subs when we got the 18-point lead but I thought it was important for those guys to get minutes because we’re going to need them, be it injury or foul trouble circumstances that present themselves down the road.”
The hot start to the second half was predicated on making shots and adapting to a new offense that assistant coach Phil Johnson installed in practice earlier in the day.
“Coach Johnson, literally in the last six minutes of our shootaround today, stuck in a really ugly looking three-in offense that we ran at the end of the half and probably ran 16 minutes in the second half,” Floyd said. “I credit our guys for being able to try to get it into play and coach Johnson for understanding what our limitations were on the offensive end of the court. We’re not shooting it particularly great from the perimeter. That may not be our biggest strength. I think our opponents have already recognized that, and that’s why we’ve seen so much zone here without Jalen and McKenzie and Crosgile. We’re going to probably see it the rest of the year. But I really loved the impact of the three-in on our team tonight.”
The Miners regained some confidence that they’ll need as they embark on a difficult two-game road swing to Middle Tennessee (Thursday) and UAB (Saturday). Those teams are a combined 17-1 on their home courts.
“I tend to look at it this way - we’ve won three out of four now in this transition period,” Floyd said. “The key is we have to understand what our limitations are and stay away from our limitations and try to play to our strengths. We shot 24 threes the other night and that’s not necessarily our strength right now. These things we’re going to have to learn as we move along. We shot 14 tonight. We shot less and a better percentage. As a result we shot more free throws because the ball was touched in areas where we either got higher percentage shots or had an opportunity to get fouled.”
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