(Courtesy: UTEP Athletics)
EL PASO, Texas - Tae Hardy went off for a season-high 25 points as the UTEP men’s basketball team posted a wire-to-wire 71-63 victory against Austin Peay in front of nearly 5,000 fans Friday evening.
Zid Powell (14 points) joined him in double figures to help the Miners secure their first 4-0 start to a season since 2019-20 (5-0).
The game was part of the SoCal Challenge, which the squad will continue next week in the “Golden State.”
UTEP drilled 55.3 percent from the floor (26-47), marking its fourth effort of at least 50 percent in as many games to begin the campaign.
The Orange and Blue racked up 21 assists on 26 made field goals, led by Calvin Solomon’s career-best seven helpers. Powell (career-most tying six) and Hardy (five) also were unselfish with their play.
Also noteworthy is that Hardy, who joined the team last year as a transfer from Southern Miss, had his most points in a UTEP uniform.
At the other end of the court the Miners limited the Governors (2-2) to 40.0 percent (22-55), including just 30.0 percent (6-20) from beyond-the-arc.
UTEP also held a slight edge in rebounds (35-32), with Otis Frazier III setting the tone in the department.
He matched his career high with nine boards while tallying eight points.
UTEP hammered Austin Peay in the paint (38-20) and had a 14-3 advantage in fastbreak points.
That helped it overcome 21 rebounds and a readout of 14-31 at the charity stripe.
“First of all, credit to Austin Peay,” UTEP head coach Joe Golding said. “I thought they played their butts off tonight. They played hard. They were a hungry team. I thought they were a tougher team tonight in all aspects of the game. I’m going to take the hit. We did not have our team prepared.
“I thought the defense stepped up,” Golding said. “We spend so much time and pride ourselves on the defensive side of the ball. We held them to 63 points so we gave ourselves a chance to win.”
The Miners pounced on the Governors from the tip, with Powell burying a trey on the opening possession on a feed from Hardy.
After a steal from Solomon, he found Powell who hammered it home with a thunderous dunk to make it 5-0 UTEP 32 seconds into the game. As it turned out, the Orange and Blue would never trail from that point.
It was back-and-forth over the next few minutes with the differential still at five before a Solomon free throw was followed by a Hardy triple.
The little push afforded the Orange and Blue their then largest lead of the stanza (15-6, 15:19, 1H).
After Austin Peay cut the margin three, UTEP caught fire by ripping off 10 straight points. It was fueled by the Miners’ defense, with the Governors being harassed into three turnovers in the stretch that UTEP converted into scores.
Jon Dos Anjos initiated it with a lay-up from a steal by Elijah Jones. Hardy then sliced through the defense for another driving lay-up, this time with Dos Anjos starting things with the theft.
After a stop, Powell split a pair of free throws.
The Miners then forced another misfire, and Powell found a cutting Frazier III for the slam to bring the crowd to its feet.
Powell then picked off a pass and rattled the rim with a one-handed dunk. The surge was capped off by a Solomon free throw, affording the Miners a 13-poiint cushion (25-12, 10:03 1H).
Neither team could string together any sustainable surge during the remainder of the half, and UTEP went into the locker room leading by 11 (38-27).
The Governors tallied the first five points after the break, trimming the Miners’ lead to six (38-32, 17:45 2H). It was down to five (43-38, 14:40, 2H), but UTEP had an answer.
Powell finished a hoop and harm from Solomon for the old-fashioned three-point play.
The Miners then got out in transition after a misfire by Austin Peay, as Hardy drained the 3-pointer from the corner on the pass from Frazier III.
The visitors never threatened from that point on, with UTEP igniting the Haskins Center several times with alley-oops and nice finds in traffic to maintain a healthy cushion.
UTEP will continue play in the SoCal Challenge by venturing to San Juan Capistrano, Calif., where it will face Pac-12 member Cal at 9:30 p.m. PT/10:30 p.m. MT on Monday (Nov. 20).
The contest will be broadcast on 600 ESPN El Paso. It will also be carried nationally on CBS Sports Network.