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Saturday, September 30, 2023


Men’s Basketball: UTEP unable to keep pace with Cougars

Texas-El Paso’s Marvin Kilgore lost the handle just in front of the free-throw line, and almost on cue the ball landed in the hands of UH senior forward Tafari Toney. The Cougars’ resident scrapper then used a power dribble to muscle his way to the basket, elevated over two defenders and threw down a two-handed dunk that could have brought down the rim, giving UH a nine-point lead with 4:41 left to go.

Though he didn’t make a habit of posterizing the Miners on Saturday, every time he touched the ball Toney made the plays, big and small, to provide UH with enough of a cushion to outlast UTEP 77-72 at Hofheinz Pavilion.

"I’m just here to give (us) energy," Toney said. "I just want to get two points in there, get back on defense, get another stop and just keep it going. We had to build that lead to finish out the game. We finished it out with the foul shots this time."

Senior guard Lanny Smith finished the game with nine points and seven assists. All of his points came from the free-throw line.

Smith said Toney’s performance put the team in a better position to win, and his presence changed the game.

"It just makes us a more balanced and dangerous team," Smith said. "When they know that they have to guard our guards, who can break down anybody, and our big men, who are hustling and grabbing rebounds and getting put-backs, it just makes us more balanced. The other team can’t key in on one person."

The Cougars (13-3, 2-0 C-USA) shot 10-of-12 from the free-throw line in the final minutes as the Miners (11-5, 2-1) attempted to slow down the game and make a comeback. Houston sophomore guard Kelvin Lewis, who set a new career high with 17 points, said his success was because of late night and early morning practices.

Houston head coach Tom Penders said he wasn’t surprised that UTEP head coach Tony

Barbee’s team didn’t stop fighting when the Cougars took a 67-56 lead, the largest of the game, on a Lanny Smith free throw with 2:16 remaining. He knew the game would become a lot slower in those last two minutes.

"We wanted to keep the clock running," Penders said. "But you can do two things when you’re down 11 points; you can sit back and let the other team dribble it out, or you can fight. That’s what (Barbee) did and that’s the same thing I would have done."

Houston went on a stretch in the final nine minutes of the second half, forcing UTEP into six turnovers. The Cougars, however, were only able to capitalize on two of their turnover opportunities.

Freshman guard Zamal Nixon initiated one of those fast-break opportunities when he stole the ball, drove the length of the court and performed a double-clutch finger roll to put Houston up 31-27 with 2:02 left in the first half.

The Cougars stepped up the intensity defensively in the second half, finding ways to deflect balls on nearly every possession, even if it didn’t directly lead to points, which changed the demeanor of the game.

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