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UTEP Men’s Basketball Races Past Western Kentucky, 93-87

EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- Tae Hardy erupted for a UTEP career-high 27 points while Corey Camper (career-best 19 points) and Zid Powell (17 points) also reached double figures as UTEP won a wild back-and-forth game with high-flying WKU, 93-87, at the Don Haskins Center Saturday evening.

There were 15 ties and nine lead changes, with 11 of those deadlocks coming during the final 20 minutes of action. The Toppers (13-6, 2-3 CUSA) played from ahead for a good portion of the second half and were up by three (75-72) with 5:39 remaining in regulation. 

The Miners (11-8, 2-2 CUSA) didn’t blink, ripping off eight consecutive points on the way to pulling ahead for good. Defense fueled the stretch, with UTEP’s pressure harassing the Toppers into committing four of their eventual 19 turnovers during the 8-0 surge, allowing the Miners to get easy points in transition or at the charity stripe. 

UTEP nailed 46.3 percent (31-67) from the floor, won the boards (34-33) against the top rebounding team in CUSA (in terms of rebounds per game) and was relentless at attacking the rim on the way to finishing 24-29 at the charity stripe (season-best 82.8 percent). Powell (7-8), Hardy (5-5) and Camper Jr. (6-7) keyed the charge in the department. The Orange and Blue also racked up 40 points in the paint, meaning 64 of their 93 points came in the paint or at the charity stripe. 

The Miners turned the 19 Topper turnovers into 19 points, in addition to 31 points on the break. All of that allowed them to overcome WKU shooting 61.9 percent (39-63) for the game, although the Toppers had as many giveaways (five) as made field goals (five) in the final 5:39 of the contest. Furthermore, WKU was just 4-12 (33.3 percent) from distance. It came into the tilt making seven per game. 

The 93 points by UTEP are the most against a DI opponent since it surpassed the century mark in a 101-89 victory against Rice on Jan. 8, 2021.

“The last five minutes we talked in the timeout that we had to buckle down and get some stops,” UTEP head coach Joe Golding said. “We’d been good all year on the defensive end, and they’re really hard to guard. The keys for us were the three-point line, rebounding and transition defense. Down the stretch, our guys made some championship plays and some tough plays that ultimately won the game.

“We protected home floor, that’s the most important thing,” Golding said. “We’re early in this conference race. We’re four games in. If you look around the league, a lot of people are winning at home. We did our job. We protected home court, and now we have the opportunity next week to go out and play two road games and see if we can steal one on the road.”

Otis Frazier III stuffed the stat sheet across the board with six points to go along with nine rebounds, six assists and four steals to buoy UTEP’s big three on the evening. Post Kevin Kalu also got after it with seven points and five rebounds while redshirt-freshman Elijah Jones scored six points on a perfect 3-3 shooting in only six minutes of action. 

WKU was led by Don McHenry’s 18 points, while Rodney Howard (16 points), Teagan Moor (15 points) and Babacar Faye (12 points) all reached double figures in scoring as well. The night, however, belonged to the Miners, who snapped a seven-game skid against the Toppers but more importantly protected home court. 

UTEP finished 2-0 on the week at home, marking its first CUSA weekend sweep in the Sun City since defeating Rice and North Texas during the final week of the regular season in 2021-22. The Miners are now 10-2 at home on the year, their fifth straight campaign of at least 10 home victories. 

The Orange and Blue also continued an unprecedented streak at the school with their fourth consecutive contest of at least 15 steals. 

WKU had a modest 4-0 lead two minutes into the contest before UTEP struck back with a 7-0 run to vault ahead. Frazier III got the Miners on the board with a nifty hook shot in the lane, which was followed by a pop and score 3-pointer by Hardy. After another stop, Hardy drilled a step-back trey. WKU stopped the push with a score, but Hardy continued to cook with a pull-up triple to put the Miners up four (10-6, 15:13, 1H).

The Orange and Blue eventually had a seven-point cushion (18-11, 12:42, 1H) following a 3-pointer by Powell, but WKU heated up with an 8-0 surge to regain the lead by one (19-18, 9:00, 1H). It was back-and-forth over the next several minutes, with UTEP up by a point (34-33, 2:26, 2H) before a mini 6-0 run. 

The sequence allowed the Miners to match their biggest differential of the stanza, but WKU countered with seven straight to pull even with 24 seconds left. Camper Jr. filled up a difficult off-balance jumper to beat the buzzer and give the home side a two-point cushion (42-40) heading into halftime. 

WKU had a little 6-2 push to start the second stanza, making it a 13-4 run wrapped around halftime on the way to regaining the edge at 46-44 (17:44, 2H). Consecutive scores for UTEP, including a fancy driving score where Powell split the defense like a knife through butter, put it back ahead for the moment (48-46, 16:23, 2H). 

The Toppers went on a 10-4 push over the next few minutes to secure a four-point cushion (56-52, 13:09, 2H). UTEP stopped it with a big triple from Camper Jr., setting up a stretch where the Orange and Blue would get within two, one or tie it, but WKU seemingly refused to relinquish the advantage.  

In fact, the visitors remained up by three (75-72, 5:39, 2H) before the Miners began to make their move. It came in the form of an 8-0 run to propel the home side ahead for good. It marked the ninth and final lead change of the contest. 

Kalu started it with a powerful dunk on a feed from Terrell Jr. UTEP then forced four turnovers on the next five possessions for WKU. The Miners attacked the goal at the other end and got four straight points on free throws.

After harassing the Toppers into yet another turnover, Hardy converted in traffic with a lay-up to suddenly put the Miners up by five (80-75). WKU crept within four (84-80) with 57 seconds left in the contest, but six straight points, including an And-1 by Hardy, helped UTEP salt away the eventual 93-87 victory.

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Bea Martinez

UTEP Athletics


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