EL PASO, Texas - The UTEP men’s basketball team (11-10, 4-6 C-USA) will look to regain its winning ways while continuing a three-game roadtrip with a nationally-televised (ESPNU) match-up at Middle Tennessee (13-9, 6-5 C-USA) at 7 p.m. MT/8 p.m. CT Thursday.
Mattress Firm is the Presenting Sponsor of UTEP Men’s Basketball.
Both squads are desperate for a win, with each having dropped back-to-back tilts. This is the first of two contests on the year between the programs, with the Blue Raiders making the visit to serve as UTEP’s “Senior Day” opponent on March 4.
UTEP is in the midst of playing three straight and five of seven on the road, and it will be in search of its second road triumph this season.
The Miners trailed by just one midway through the second half at North Texas before succumbing, 52-42, in Denton last time out on Jan. 28. MT was swept on its trip through the “Sunshine State,” including most recently falling at FIU, 82-74, on Jan. 28.
The Blue Raiders are 7-2 at home (4-1 C-USA) while the Miners stand at 1-7 (1-4 C-USA) in road tilts. UTEP fell in its first three league road games by a combined nine points, and either led or was within two points in the final minute of regulation in each of those games.
The Miners broke through by rallying from 13 down to emerge victorious, 60-58, at Charlotte on Jan. 16 before fading late at North Texas last time out.
FACING THE TOP TIER OF THE LEAGUE
After challenging league-leading and No. 24 Florida Atlantic (L, 67-58, Jan. 21) and falling at second-place North Texas (L, 52-42, Jan. 28). The Miners now are tasked with playing at Middle Tennessee, which is currently tied for fourth in C-USA.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
UTEP is in the midst of having five of seven games on the road, which includes three straight away from home.
It marks the second straight season that the Orange and Blue will have three consecutive league road games.
Last year the Miners had three conference contests in the span of five days, something they hadn’t done since the 1983-84 campaign.
SERIES HISTORY: MIDDLE TENNESSEE LEADS, 9-5
Middle Tennessee holds an 9-5 edge in the series with UTEP, including a 77-59 win in Murfreesboro last year and then taking out the Miners in the 2022 C-USA quarterfinals, 66-59, in OT on March 10. UTEP had won two straight in the series prior to going 0-2 against the Blue Raiders last year.
GET TO KNOW MIDDLE TENNESSEE
Middle Tennessee surged out of the gates at 5-2 before settling for a 7-4 mark in nonconference action.
It was a bit of a reversal in league play with a 2-3 start before winning four in a row to improve to 6-3 in C-USA and climb up to third place in the league.
The streak came to a halt after being swept in the “Sunshine State,” including most recently being upended at FIU, 82-74, on Jan. 28.
When it comes to the Blue Raiders, the defense sets the tone. MT is allowing 66.7 points per game (fifth C-USA/99th NCAA), aided by fiercely defending the paint with 5.0 blocks per contest (second C-USA/22nd NCAA).
It also forces 15.6 turnovers per game (fourth C-USA/37th NCAA), aided by 8.0 steals per game (fifth C-USA/60th NCAA).
Teafale Lenard sets the tone down low for the defense with 2.0 bpg (second C-USA/27th NCAA) while DeAndre Dishman (one of seven seventh-year players in the country) adds 0.8 swats per contest (ninth C-USA). Lenard also has quick hands by coming up with 1.8 steals per game (seventh C-USA/92nd NCAA). Camryn Weston adds 1.4 spg (11th C-USA).
An area of concern on defense has been grabbing only 22.8 defensive boards per game (10th C-USA/314th NCAA).
Offensively, MT accounts for 69.8 points per game (seventh C-USA). The Blue Raiders shoot it well at 45.9 percent (fifth C-USA/112th NCAA). Eli Lawrence (12.4 ppg) and Dishman (11.3 ppg) pace the attack, with Weston (9.6 ppg) just shy of double figures as well. Lenard (8.8 ppg) and Elias King (8.4 ppg) also get after it. The Blue Raiders had a quiet offseason, as they are one of just two teams in the nation (Navy the other) to not add or lose anyone as result of the transfer portal.
Overall, they brought back 11 players from last year’s squad. Notable alumni include Kelly Holcomb (NFL QB from 1995-2007) and James McGill Buchanan (Nobel Prize Winner).