UTEP rallies from behind to survive McNeese State, 82-72

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The UTEP men’s shorthanded basketball team trailed for 27:30 against McNeese State, but rallied in the final 10 minutes to beat the Cowboys 82-72 on Thursday night.

In front of 5,522 fans at the Haskins Center, the Miners recovered in the second half with throws of magic all over the place. Ze’Rik Onyema, who has only appeared in two games this year for the Miners, provided a spark off the bench with a thunderous dunk, a significant rebound and a nice assist in just five minutes of action (+10 efficiency ). Winger Jorell Saterfield came off the bench to score 13 points, including a 3-point trio. Souely Boum (23) and Keonte Kennedy (20) combined 53 points to lead the Miners in their comeback victory.

Boom, who got off a rough patch early on, scored his 1,000th career point in a UTEP uniform tonight. He is only the 35th player in the history of the program to cross this milestone. Head coach Joe Golding said Boom had been ill (unrelated to COVID) and believed the team’s top scorer might miss the shot.

“We lost this game two weeks ago against UC Riverside,” said Joe Golding after the victory. “Today they won it tonight. We’re going through a bunch. Name me a college basketball team that’s been through more than us. We’re going to take it and keep going.

He is right.

The Miners have been through a lot of adversity in the first month and a half of the season. They started the year without Boom due to a hand injury. Then, as soon as Boom returned, he and Christian Agnew were placed in COVID-19 protocols after UTEP’s road victory against Pacific. As soon as Boom and Agnew returned, Jamal Bieniemy missed consecutive matches following a tough collision with first-year forward Kevin Kalu in the defeat of Kansas.

“It wasn’t pretty tonight,” Golding said. “It’s not all our guys’ fault. We showed courage and found a way to win.”

No, it’s not the team’s fault at all. They also played this game without senior forward Tydus Verhoeven, who arguably came from his best game against New Mexico. Golding said it was a concussion that Verhoeven had dated.

McNeese State took advantage of young UTEP forwards and scored 40 in the paint on Thursday. They won the rebound margin, 34-29. And the Cowboys even shot 50% in a well-contested game.

So while it wasn’t a pretty win, this win is a bit more special for a miners team that had been punched in the face by adversity.

But, there is hope.

Bieniemy could return soon, perhaps through the announcement of the West Star Bank Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational, which begins Tuesday, December 21, as the Miners take on NC Central. They have the opportunity to repeat as tournament champions starting in the 2019 season. UTEP could also end up securing mid-year San Diego state transfer Che Evans Jr. as the C-USA game begins.

It looks like greener paths are coming. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

“Everyone has time off tomorrow. I turn off my phone all day,” Golding said. “We’re going to recharge and regroup for Saturday and get ready for the tournament.”

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