Here is a difference between this season’s UTEP men’s basketball team and last season’s: These Miners can win a free-throw-shooting contest.
There were many other things the Miners did right in a 79-71 victory over Jacksonville State Thursday night in a game where they scored the first 10 points and turned back every Gamecocks charge, but after 50 fouls were called and 58 free throws were shot, that’s a good place to start.
More:CUSA men’s basketball standings
As year after ranking 344th nationally in free-throw percentage (63 percent), the Miners made 23-of-29 free throws – four of the six misses came in the final 90 seconds with UTEP semi-comfortably ahead – enabling them to stay unbeaten in Conference USA road games. Jacksonville State made 28-of-39 free throws.
“Staying the course,” said Otis Frazier, who led five players in double figures with 17 points. “We have guys who were on last year’s team that struggled at the free-throw line. We’ve been in the gym all summer, we have new guys who are capable of making shots, we stayed the course.”
UTEP improved to 9-1 this season in games where it shoots 29 or more free throws. The Miners are now 3-4 in CUSA, which translates to 3-0 at home and 0-4 on the road. Jacksonville State is 3-4 in CUSA.
Frazier made the game’s biggest play after Jacksonville State clawed within 70-66 with 2:37 to play. On the ensuing possession Frazier went strong to the rim, drew the foul and converted a three-point play to restore the lead to seven and UTEP saw it home.
“We love playing at home, playing in front of the crowd gets us juiced up,” Frazier said.
David Terrell, who had 10 points on 6-of-7 free-throw shooting, agreed.
“We had a little more pop to us,” said David Terrell, who had 10 points on 6-of-7 free-throw shooting. “Coach (Joe) Golding has been preaching to us all week about urgency and we had that.”
Said Golding: “We stepped up and hit free throws. When we get to the paint, good things happen. … We knew we had to get a stop, we were going back-and-forth for a good minute and we knew we could end the game like that.”
For the most part the lead bounced between 11 points and four all night after the Miners’ quick 10-0 lead, but the Gamecocks had a chance to get within a point after Ivan Reynolds dunked and drew a foul.
He was called for a technical for taunting, and after the exchange of free-throws, the Miners were up 56-53.
Tae Hardy (10 points) and Terrell then had back-to-back three-point plays on drives to push the lead back to 62-53 in what eventually became a 10-1 run. That was all indicative of a night when UTEP turned back every Gamecock bid.
This was a game that didn’t have much flow because of the fouls and free throws, but the Miners endured.
“It was definitely frustrating, there were a couple of times when we had to regroup, have tight huddles and have a good culture about us,” Terrell said.
That all worked to give UTEP a win it needed.
The UTEP men play the middle game in their three-game homestand Saturday night against Liberty. The 7 p.m. tip will be streamed on ESPN+ and carried on 600 ESPN El Paso.
Bret Bloomquist can be reached at email@example.com; @Bretbloomquist on Twitter.