GAME NOTES: The Sun Belt Invitational comes to a close on Sunday night, as the Texas-El Paso Miners square off with the Denver Pioneers at the Don Haskins Center.
Denver has experienced an up-and-down season en route to a 6-6 record, although it has been on the rise of late with wins in four of its last five games. The Pioneers opened up tournament play on Saturday night by making easy work of Alcorn State, 67-49.
UTEP began its weekend with an impressive 67-64 victory over Western Illinois, giving it a season-high four straight wins. The season has been a success for the Miners thus far, the team posting a 9-5 overall record, which includes a 7-2 mark at home.
UTEP holds a 3-1 lead in the all-time series with Denver, although the two teams haven't met since the 1960s.
The Pioneers built a 20-point halftime lead over Alcorn State in Saturday's opening round and cruised down the stretch, never allowing their advantage to dip into single digits. They shot 48.1 percent from the field in the triumph, including 9-of-24 from beyond the arc, while they held their opponent without a 3-point field goal. Brett Olson led the way with 16 points while also handing out six assists against only one turnover. Chris Udofia brought 15 points to the table and stuffed the stat sheet elsewhere with five rebounds, five assists, three blocks and three steals.
On the season, Denver has a less-than-stellar offensive attack, scoring 65.8 ppg on less than 44 percent shooting, while allowing its opponents to shoot greater than 49 percent from the floor. It is able to even the playing field by making more than eight 3-pointers per contest, and by boasting a +2.5 turnover margin. Brett Olson is the offensive catalyst, scoring 15.2 ppg, while Chris Udofia (13.1 ppg) is a multi-talented forward, sporting 5.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.8 blocks per outing.
The Miners appeared down for the count late in their opening-round contest, as they trailed WIU by 10 points with less than five minutes to play, but they ended the contest on a 17-6 run, with Vince Hunter's jumper with 43 seconds remaining proving to be the game-winner. They shot a meager 34.6 percent from the field on the evening, but managed to make up for it by outrebounding the Leathernecks, 39-30, and piecing together a 29-of-39 showing at the foul line. Julian Washburn led the way with 18 points. John Bohannon tallied a double- double with 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Hunter added 14 points and nine boards.
UTEP has played very well at both ends of the floor this season, outshooting its opponents, 45.7 percent to 38.3 percent, on its way to a +4.8 scoring margin, although its lack of prowess from 3-point range (4.6 makes per game at 34.6 percent) has hindered it at times. McKenzie Moore (13.1 ppg) is the club's leading scorer, but he missed Saturday's game. Washburn scores 11.9 ppg, while Hunter (10.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and Bohannon (9.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg) are regular contributors in the paint.
Although both teams are coming off solid wins in the opening round and have been playing some of its best basketball of late, UTEP has shown to be the more impressive team and will have the advantage to close out its tournament in style and improve upon its solid home record.
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