GAME NOTES: The Texas-El Paso Miners will try to continue their reign atop the Conference USA standings on Thursday night when they welcome the Florida Atlantic Owls to the Don Haskins Center.
Although FAU sports a below .500 record on the season both overall (9-15) and in conference action (4-5), it has been on the upswing of late with wins in two of its last three. The Owls most recently downed UAB on their home floor on Saturday, 82-71, but now they venture back out on the road, where they've gone just 2-9.
Since losing its C-USA opener in early January, UTEP has been cruising with eight straight victories to keep pace with Southern Miss for first place in the league standings. The Miners made easy work of Old Dominion on the road on Saturday, 63-49, and they will welcome a return to El Paso, as they've gone 12-3 at the Don Haskins Center.
This marks the first time these two newly-acquainted league rivals will play one another.
The Owls fell behind by six at intermission of their latest tilt, but after shooting just 37.9 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes, they made good on 57.1 percent of their shots in the second stanza and they surged ahead for the 11-point victory. Pablo Bertone was the catalyst in the triumph, shooting 13-of-20 from the field and 5-of-6 at the foul line for a career-high 34 points. Marquan Botley flirted with a triple-double by posting 11 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, while D'Andre Johnson and Kelvin Penn netted 13 and 12 points, respectively.
FAU has struggled to put points on the board all season long, as it shoots just 42.9 percent from the field for 67.6 ppg, which all but negates a solid scoring defense (68.3 ppg). Bertone is the unquestioned top scoring option with 18.9 ppg on just shy of 44 percent field goal shooting to go with 1.5 spg. Botley (10.0 ppg) and Jackson Trapp (9.6 ppg) have both knocked down 41 3-pointers, while Justin Raffington is a nightly double-double threat with 9.5 ppg and 9.2 rpg.
The Miners never trailed in their most recent matchup, opening up a double- digit lead at halftime before cruising to the 14-point victory. Not only did they shot 48.7 percent from the field, but they held ODU to a lowly 25.5 percent shooting, including 3-of-19 from 3-point range. John Bohannon connected on 6-of-7 from the field for 19 points, while hauling in eight rebounds for good measure. Julian Washburn drained 3-of-7 from beyond the arc on his way to 18 points.
Despite shooting an impressive 46.1 percent from the field this season, UTEP only scores 69.6 ppg, but that has been more than enough to support its outstanding defense, which ranks 33rd in the country in yielding just 63.2 ppg. Washburn posts a team-high 13.0 ppg, while shooting 33-of-88 from beyond the arc (.375). Vince Hunter (11.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Bohannon (11.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.7 bpg) have both been strong in the paint, while C.J. Cooper brings 9.3 ppg to the table, albeit on a mere 35.3 percent from the field.
The writing is on the wall in this one with a strong UTEP team hosting an FAU squad that struggles on the road. Expect the Miners to roll in this one.
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