UTEP jumped out to an 18-3 lead in the first eight minutes on its way to a 74-54 rout of North Texas on Sunday afternoon in Denton.
The Miners (21-9, 11-4 C-USA) kept their hopes for a double bye in the Conference USA Championship alive with a dominating performance against the Mean Green (15-14, 6-9 C-USA), which had won its previous four games.
After UTEP bolted to the 15-point lead early on, North Texas scored the next nine points to make it a six-point game (18-12). The Miners went on a 14-2 run to power ahead 32-14 and weren’t threatened after that.
“I thought we really played unselfish tonight,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We moved the ball and played inside and out. We got really good guard play from C.J. [Cooper] and Julian [Washburn] out front, and I might add that Jake Flaggert played his best game as a Miner. We had a real concentrated, collective effort defensively and our guys spearheaded that by getting back on defense and not allowing North Texas to do what they love to do, which is play in the open floor and get transition layups.
“They got to the line 27 times tonight as a result of penetrations, but by and large I thought we defended well. If we had to improve in any area it would be our turnovers . I thought Matt Willms played terrific and is continuing to get better. We’re excited about where we are going into the last road game.”
UTEP was up 36-21 at the break and extended the lead to as many as 25 points in the second half.
Willms led UTEP with 14 points, the second-most he has scored in a game his freshman season. It marked his third time in double figures and first time since Dec. 7 versus Sacramento State.
The Miners shot 52.1 percent while holding North Texas to 25.8 percent, its worst performance in a game since Feb. 21, 2009 versus Arkansas-Little Rock (25.5 percent). UTEP also clobbered the Mean Green on the boards, 46-33, as Hunter, Washburn and Willms had eight boards each.
By running out to the large lead, UTEP was able to give 12 players minutes while keeping Cooper and Washburn at 32 each.
“We made up our mind that we were going to play a lot of guys tonight, whether we were up or down,” Floyd said. “We were going to get back to our rotation of Julyan, Vince and C.J. getting a little rest. We’ve got to do this as we approach the conference tournament."
UTEP has tied its second-most Conference USA wins since joining the league for the 2005-06 season. The Miners were 11-3 in 2005-06 and 11-5 in 2010-11.
UTEP will wrap up the regular season at UTSA (8-20, 4-11 C-USA) on Thursday (March 6) at 6 p.m. MT.
The Miners will host the Conference USA Championship March 11-15 at the Haskins Center.