Photo courtesy of Conference USA
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (28-4) are moving on in the Conference USA tournament and are set for a rematch with the one team that gave them a loss during the conference schedule.
The UTEP Miners are a team with an incredibly deceiving record, as they currently own a 15-16 mark. As mentioned before, they defeated MTSU a couple weeks ago in El Paso, Texas. After the Blue Raiders took a 39-22 lead, the Miners outscored MT by 20 and stole the win 57-54.
Here are three observations from UTEP’s win over Rice on Thursday:
Harris and Artis are a lethal guard tandem
Dominic Artis and Omega Harris scored 47 of UTEP’s 86 points and got to the rim at will. Both are also consistent perimeter threats, as they each made two three-point shots. Artis took the spotlight after a 26-point, 10-rebound performance, but Harris is also a really strong guard that the Blue Raiders will need to keep an eye on.
Head coach Tim Floyd recognizes that Thursday was one of the best games his two guards have played this year.
“What kept us balanced throughout the game was the guard play of Dominic and Omega. They kept us solid and made good decisions with the ball in their hands,” Floyd said after the game. “We had to play some lengthier possessions and we made some shots at the end of those possessions.”
Blue Raider guards Giddy Potts and Ed Simpson will have to play tough defense on these two if the Blue Raiders are to win this game.
UTEP’s big men play a solid role
While the guard play was dominant, Miner big man Matt Willms gave his team a lot of energy and a physical inside presence, finishing with 10 points and six boards. UTEP owned the block in this game, winning the paint-point battle 38-14. The Miners also won the rebounding battle 41-33.
JaCorey Williams, Reggie Upshaw and Brandon Walters must play as well as they did today to give Middle a chance to win. You might also see an appearance from Karl Gamble to add some height to the mix.
The Miners defense put together one of its best showings of the year
UTEP held a very good offensive team in Rice to just 29 first-half points on 26.7 percent shooting from the floor. For the entire game, they held the Owls to a shade under 34 percent shooting, which included holding all-conference first teamer Egor Kouelchov to just seven points.
The Blue Raiders shot almost 60 percent from the floor in their win over UTSA and will need a repeat performance to end the Miners’ season. If players like Ed Simpson, Brandon Walters and Aldonis Foote continue to step up, they should be able to win the game.
The Raiders and Miners will battle it out Friday morning inside Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama at 11:30 a.m.