After their last game against Tulsa yielded season-lows for points, field goals and field goal percentage, the Miners will get another shot at the Golden Hurricane on Saturday at 7 in the Don Haskins Center.
“Tulsa has done such a great job defensively, and not just on us,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “Danny [Manning] has done a great job with making them believe that the way they’ve got to win is to defend people. We’re going to have trouble scoring. We know that going into the game. But we’ve had a couple of days to work on Tulsa, and hopefully we’ll get some things into the game.”
The Miners (13-8, 6-2 C-USA) scored nine points in the final 14:31 of the first half on Jan. 16 at the Reynolds Center. After they built a 30-26 lead midway through the second half, they went through another extended dry spell. They scored one point in a span of 7:15 before John Bohannon converted a three-point play with 3:39 remaining to slice a 38-31 Hurricane lead down to four.
In a 45-42 loss, UTEP scored eight field goals in both halves while shooting 31.4 percent overall, including 20 percent (4-for-20) from three-point land.
“You’d like to just say ‘Hey, we didn’t make shots,’” Floyd said. “That’s the easy thing to do. That would be not recognizing the great job that [Tulsa] did defensively and on the defensive boards. We got no second chance opportunities. Their guards went inside of us all night long.”
After beating UTEP to move to 3-1 in Conference USA play, the Golden Hurricane (12-11, 4-5 C-USA) has posted a 1-4 mark with a win at Houston (87-72) and losses to Southern Miss (62-59) and UAB (70-63) at home and Memphis (94-64) on the road. Injuries have played a hand in Tulsa’s recent struggles. Freshman forward Zeldric King is likely out for the year after undergoing foot surgery. Freshman forward Brandon Swannegan, junior guard Pat Swilling Jr. and freshman forward De’Andre Wright are attempting to play through injuries. Freshman guard James Woodard hurt his ankle in Wednesday’s loss to UAB and has also been bothered by a stiff back.
Woodard leads active TU players in scoring (12.2 ppg), but totaled three points in the last two games, shooting 1-for-7 from the field. Swilling Jr. is averaging 10.5 ppg, and senior guard Scottie Haralson is averaging 9.7 ppg.
“Haralson is a guy we have always had fits with,” Floyd said. “Woodard is going to be an outstanding player in line with some of the guys that they have had in the past at Tulsa. Danny is building something special. We know that it’s an important game if we’re going to try to contend in this league.”
UTEP will shoot for a sweep of a three-game homestand while keeping pace with Memphis, Southern Miss and UCF near the top of the C-USA standings. Floyd has been pleased with his team’s development.
“I think our help defense has been better the last two games than it has been all year long,” he said. “We have limited our opponents to 53 and 50 [points] at home. The crowd has had a lot to do with that. We really play hard in front of them. I think our guys love playing hard in front of our special home crowds.
“The offensive efficiency is something that we’ve liked. We’ve shot around 50 percent the last two nights. We’ve had maybe a few more turnovers than we like to have. We’d like to get our free throw percentage up a little bit. But by and large, I think we’re a better team than we were six weeks ago.”