Panther Preview: FIU men’s basketball vs. UTEP

Junior guard Tae Hardy for UTEP (left) and sophomore guard Denver Jones for FIU (right). Photos courtesy of FIU and UTEP Athletics.

Brian Olmo | Sports Director

FIU men’s basketball prepares for their last two home games of the season, opening the stretch against the UTEP Miners on Feb. 23, 2023, at Ocean Bank Convocation Center.

The last time these two squads faced off, the Miners shut out the Panthers with a 20-point blowout, 81-61. It was one of the few times this season sophomore guard Denver Jones failed to pass the 20-point mark.

UTEP is not a high-powered offense by any definition of the phrase. In fact, there’s an argument to be made for them being one of the worst offenses in Conference USA. The Miners are dead last in 3-point field goal percentage and in 3-point field goals made, shooting a putrid 27.0% and making only 124 threes on the season.

For reference, the second least made amount of 3-point field goals belongs to FIU, with 182. That’s a difference of 58 made threes.

Junior guard Tae Hardy is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 13.1 PPG on 43.7% shooting from the field. Outside of Hardy, UTEP doesn’t have any other particularly strong offensive weapons.

As a result, UTEP currently stands as the eighth-ranked offense in C-USA, one spot behind the Panthers.

But the Miners don’t hang their hard hats on their offense. It’s UTEP’s stellar defense and rebounding that make them formidable.

Anchoring the fourth-best defense, the Miners only allow 67.6 points per game. They are fourth in rebounding and first in steals.

Junior forward Calvin Solomon is the ninth-best rebounder in the conference, crashing the glass for 6.1 boards per game. FIU meanwhile doesn’t have a single player in the top 25 for rebounding.

The approach to winning games for the Miners is one cognizant of their own name; they patiently chip away at opposing offenses with their pickaxes until they strike gold, capitalizing on a well of turnovers and easy defensive boards.

Before the other team knows it, it’s all over.

The Miners do have one glaring weakness, and that’s their percentage at the charity stripe. UTEP is last in free throw percentage, shooting a hilariously bad 62.5% as a team. Not exactly at “Hack-a-Shaq” levels, but it makes teams feel a little more comfortable with sending them to the line.

For FIU to pull this one out, it’ll take more than riding on the coattails of Jones.

While he has been stellar, Jones keeps putting up his usual numbers and the team still loses games. It’s time for other Panthers to step up when it matters, and more importantly, not lose the thread in the second half.

In their last game against Middle Tennessee, the Panthers had a 23-point lead at one point before they completely squandered it all in the second half. It’s easier said than done, but if FIU could just close out games with the same intensity they open them with, their record would be so much better.

Regardless, FIU has a 2-13 all-time record against UTEP. The outlook isn’t bright, but this squad has pulled out wins from worse situations.


FIU: 67

UTEP: 81

Follow Brian Olmo on Twitter at @Brian_Olmo11

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