EL PASO, Texas (AP) Keith Frazier had 21 points and eight rebounds and UTEP won for the second time in three games since the sudden retirement of coach Tim Floyd, beating Washington State 76-69 on Saturday night.
Omega Harris scored 18 points and went 8 of 8 on free throws as the Miners (3-6) made 21 of 22 from the line while committing just six turnovers under interim coach Phil Johnson.
Viont’e Daniels led Washington State with 18 points, all of them on 6-of-12 shooting from 3-point range, as the Cougars (6-3) lost their third straight since a 6-0 start.
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The Miners have won two in a row under Johnson after losing to rival New Mexico State in the first game after Floyd abruptly retired following a loss to Lamar on Nov. 27.
Matt Willms put UTEP ahead for good when he tipped in a miss from Evan Gilyard for a 57-55 lead with just under 11 minutes remaining. The Miners outscored the Cougars by 15 points after the 4-minute mark of the first half.
”Everything changed in the second half,” Johnson said. ”We guarded better. And we got some good offense from Keith and Omega. It’s a good win for the program. It’s a good win for our guys.”
Paul Thomas scored 11 points, Gilyard added 10 and Willms had eight points and seven rebounds.
Leading 66-65, UTEP closed on a 10-4 run that included a dunk by Frazier, four free throws from Harris and two from Gilyard.
Robert Franks scored 14 points for Washington State, while Malachi Flynn, the second-leading scorer at 17 points per game coming in, was held to three points on 1-of-8 shooting. Daniels had just six points after halftime.
”We didn’t do a good enough job of finding Daniels enough in the second half,” Washington State coach Ernie Kent said. ”And they did a good job of closing out the game.”
Washington State: The Cougars have faltered badly since getting Top 25 votes two weeks ago. It was the first time to get votes in the poll since 2011, but they won’t have to worry about getting ranked anytime soon.
UTEP: The Miners have some hope under Johnson, a longtime Floyd assistant going back to their time together in the NBA. The first of two straight quality wins came against New Mexico, another longtime rival along with New Mexico State.
The first two losses on Washington State’s skid were by 14 to UC-Davis and by 27 at Idaho. But Kent said he was encouraged by a better effort against UTEP. ”That’s good for this young team,” he said. ”They continue to fight through adversity, figure it out and play better. Unfortunately, we didn’t close out the game.”
Washington State: Home against IUPUI on Dec. 16.
UTEP: The Miners are in the midst of seven December games that are all at home, including the first two Conference USA games. Incarnate Word is next on Dec. 19.
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