UTEP polished off UTSA in its regular season finale on Thursday, 61-51, but missed out on a top-four seed and double bye in next week’s Conference USA Championship when Middle Tennessee rallied to win at UAB.
The Miners (22-9, 12-4 C-USA) will be seeded fifth in next week’s conference tournament in El Paso and will face the winner of no. 12 East Carolina and no. 13 UTSA on Wednesday at 6 p.m. MT. The Pirates (16-15, 5-11 C-USA) and the Roadrunners (8-21, 4-12) will square off on Tuesday.
UTEP was victorious at East Carolina during the regular season, 58-47, and swept UTSA, winning 81-62 in El Paso and 61-51 in San Antonio.
UTEP scored the first seven points on Thursday and never trailed in putting away UTSA. There were a few anxious moments late in the second half when the Roadrunners, on a 15-2 run, trimmed a 47-30 Miner lead down to 49-45. But UTEP restored order behind C.J. Cooper, who matched his career-high with 20 points.
Cooper hit a big three at the five-minute mark to extend the Miner lead to 52-45. He also hit a pair of free throws with 2:24 remaining to make it an eight-point game (55-47). His jumper with 1:40 to play pushed the lead to double digits once again (57-47).
“We got some really great guard play from C.J. Cooper tonight,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “I thought he got us into play consistently with five assists and two turnovers. He did a nice job in his assignment defensively. He made big shots for us late.”
Cedrick Lang was the only other UTEP player in double figures as he supplied 12 points off the bench. He matched his high point total in a C-USA game this season after also scoring 12 versus UTSA on Jan. 25 and FIU on Feb. 15.
John Bohannon, Julian Washburn and Matt Willms chipped in with eight points apiece for the Miners, who received 56 points from five players.
UTEP didn’t shoot particularly well in the first half (39.1 percent), but led 28-16 while holding UTSA to 22.2 percent. The Miners scored 10 of their 15 points off turnovers in the opening 20 minutes.
UTEP outrebounded UTSA 22-16 in the first half. The Roadrunners turned the tables after the break, outrebounding the Miners 26-17 while enjoying a 16-4 edge in second chance points.
“I felt we gave them too many offensive boards, which is real problematic,” Floyd said. “We gave up a lot of drive baskets to 6-6 guys. We’re going to have to solve [that] to move forward next week.”
Devon Agusi got hot for UTSA in the second half, scoring 13 of his 14 points and going 3-for-7 from downtown.
The Miners tied the most C-USA road wins in school history, finishing 7-1 away from El Paso while holding seven teams to 61 points or less.
“Our road record this year is a real credit to our guys, how hard we played on the road, how consistently we played on the road and the defensive field goal percentage that we gave up on the road,” Floyd said. “It was another great night for us on the defensive end, giving up 31.8 percent and 26.1 percent from the three-point line. Those were key stats, and we didn’t put them at the line.”
Now it’s on to March Madness at the Don Haskins Center.
“We’re going to playing four games, which I assume our fans will like,” Floyd said. “I’m real proud of our guys. They’ll get a day off tomorrow and we’ll go back to work and start getting ready for the most important time of the year.”