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El Paso, TX — UTEP closed the first half with a 10-0 run, then kept high-scoring Northwestern State at bay over the final 20 minutes en route to an 84-74 victory on Thursday at the Haskins Center.
The Miners (6-5) took a 42-29 advantage at the half. There were some anxious moments as the Demons (4-7) pulled to within six points (56-50) with a little under 10 minutes remaining, but UTEP pushed the lead to 14 points then held on down the stretch.
UTEP placed five players in double figure scoring for the second time this season and the first time since Nov. 19. The Miners also had four starters in double figures on the heels of four straight games where only one tallied 10+ points. McKenzie Moore led UTEP with 17 points, while Julian Washburn added 16, Cedrick Lang 14, Vince Hunter 13 and John Bohannon 10. Hunter (10 rebounds) and Bohannon (13 rebounds) both had double-doubles, and Bohannon contributed six assists and three blocks.
Northwestern State came in seventh in the nation in scoring. The Demons, who lost in overtime at no. 12 Baylor on Wednesday, scored 14 points under their season average.
UTEP Coach Tim Floyd was highly complimentary of his team’s opponent.
“They really do a nice job,” he said. “They came in here with no preparation. They arrived at 3:30 this afternoon after playing last night, and got on the bus yesterday at 11:00 after taking their last final exam. They bused over to Waco and took Baylor to overtime. I think you have to applaud the effort and the grit of those kids.”
DeQuan Hicks led the Demons with 20 points, and Zikiteran Woodley added 18. Northwestern State’s leading scorer, Jalan West, was held reasonably in check with 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting.
“I think our guards did a pretty good job on West, who could start for anybody in our conference,” Floyd said. “Hicks presented the same problems that we faced against New Orleans [on Monday], an undersized 6-7 guy who scored on four inbounds plays -- which is troublesome. He got the ball to the rim at will. We had a hard time matching down as a result. We had to play some zone just to give our big guys a chance to hang around in the game.”
Northwestern State hung around for the first 16 minutes. Then the Miners increased a 32-29 lead to 42-29 with the 10-0 spurt.
UTEP shot 60.4 percent from the field, its third-best mark under Floyd (.622 versus Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Dec. 22, 2012 and .612 versus Houston on Jan. 7, 2012).
Floyd lauded the play of several Miners.
“Vince Hunter is going to be a terrific, terrific player one day. He’s a guy who I think has a chance to go on [to the next level],” he said. “If he’ll continue to mature and grow on all phases of his game, he’s going to be great. The rebounding is what he does best. He played very solid. He’s trying to figure out how to stay in games without being disqualified. He gives us a little different athlete than we’ve had in the past. I thought he played very well.
“I like the fact that Bohannon had 10 rebounds in the first half. It’s kind of easier to do when you’re playing [against] 6-6 and 6-5 in the post. We’ve got to go do that with our bigs against more size, which we’ll see [at Washington State] the day after tomorrow. C.J. [Cooper] played a good floor game for us tonight, no turnovers. We had nine turnovers tonight from our other two guards. We want them to clean that up.”
Even though the Miners tied their season-high for points, Floyd felt his team left some scoring on the floor.
“We still are not converting enough open floor situations – 3 on 2, 2 on 1, 4 on 3, where we just make poor decisions,” he said. “We try to do too much or can’t make the proper read, can’t make the defender commit and just make a simple handoff to the next guy. It looks like we don’t work on it, but believe it or not we do. We spend a lot of time on it.”
The Miners will depart for Spokane on Friday morning, then face Washington State for the first time in Pullman on Saturday at 6:30 MT. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.
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