John Bohannon scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half as UTEP pulled away for a 72-54 victory at Tulane on Thursday, posting 20 victories for the first time in three years.
The Miners (20-7, 10-2 C-USA) are still tied for first place in Conference USA with Middle Tennessee, which won at Charlotte earlier in the night. Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss and Tulsa are tied for third place, all 9-3 in league action. UTEP will play at Southern Miss on Saturday at 4 p.m. MT in a nationally televised game (CBS Sports Network).
UTEP is 5-0 in conference road games for the first time in school history with three remaining at Southern Miss, North Texas (March 2) and UTSA (March 6).
On Thursday, the Miners utilized a 9-1 run midway through the second half to push a 50-42 lead to 59-43.
“We feel good about the win,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “Tulane is a team that, to me, if I voted for coach of the year it would be Ed Conroy based on the losses that he had at a time when he couldn’t replace them and based on the improvement of the players that are returning. [Louis] Dabney and [Jay] Hook are the two most improved players in our league. Their shot definition is, in my opinion, the best in the league in terms of who’s taking them from where.”
The Green Wave’s leading scorers, Dabney (16.7 ppg entering the game) and Jonathan Stark (14.7 ppg), were both held below their season averages. Dabney scored 14 points on 4-for-12 shooting. Stark scored nine on 1-for-10 from the field. Hook (13.7 ppg) narrowly surpassed his season average with 14 points.
“We just did a great job with our matchups,” Floyd said. “They worked for us tonight. Sometimes they don’t.”
Leading 23-18 late in the first half, the Miners went on a 9-2 run and took their largest lead of the frame (32-20) on a Julian Washburn jumper. Following a technical on Washburn, Tulane scored the last four points of the period to pull within eight (32-24).
Tulane (14-13, 6-6 C-USA) cut it to five twice early in the second half. After Cameron Reynolds’ three pointer made it 39-34 five and a half minutes in, Bohannon scored the next five points to up the lead to 10 (44-34). It was an eight-point game three minutes later when UTEP embarked on the game-changing spurt.
The Miners shot 59.1 percent in the second half and 56.3 percent for the game. Tulane shot 32.1 percent in the first half, 35.4 percent on the night.
C.J. Cooper and Vince Hunter each scored 12 points for the Miners. With Washburn having an off night offensively (four points, 2-for-8 from the field), UTEP received unexpected contributions from Matt Willms (nine points) and Cedrick Lang (eight points).
“We had really good poise with 10 turnovers and did a great job getting the ball to our interior players – Matt Willms and Cedrick Lang in the first half, and John Bohannon in the second half,” Floyd said. “Those guys played well. But again we had a great floor game from C.J. Cooper. He made some timely threes and was really heady throughout the ballgame. He kept us organized. We shot for percentage and defended for percentage, and that was probably the key to the game.”
After getting outrebounded 18-17 in the first half, the Miners regrouped to take a 14-9 edge on the glass in the final 20 minutes.
But the big story of the night, as in the Miners’ first four league road games, was the defense.
“Our biggest challenge has been big guys trying to stay between guards and the basket,” Floyd said. “Vince Hunter did a tremendous job tonight staying between Dabney and the basket. He’s their leading scorer and Vince is 6-8. He has really worked at it and that’s why he’s progressing into one of the better players in our league.”
Bohannon made 8-of-10 shots and all four of his free throws.
“John was really important for us,” Floyd said. “He didn’t play many minutes in the first half. He had 20 points in 22 minutes. He probably sat 11 minutes in the first half and we sat him near the end. We didn’t want to get him hurt. He’s a really good player. His length impacts games and he has learned how to utilize that.”
This is the 25th season with 20 wins or more in school history.