PULLMAN – The Washington State men’s basketball team came out flat and just couldn’t make enough second-half shots to matter as it lost 64-51 at home against Texas-El Paso on Saturday.
The Miners (7-5) appeared to focus on preventing the Cougars from getting the ball to leading scorer DaVonte Lacy, who finished 14 points less than his season average of 20.2 a game.
“They did a good job of denying DaVonte the ball. We didn’t make baskets,” WSU coach Ken Bone said. “We give our guys lots of opportunities to make 3s. We need to hit some.”
The Cougars (6-5) hit only 1 of 12 from beyond the arc in the first half and 27.6 percent from the floor overall in scoring only 17 points.
Que Johnson got hot in the second half, scoring 19 of his game leading 21 points, but it wasn’t enough to catch the tall, athletic Miners, who routinely found ways to get open looks.
“We haven’t played a lot of teams with that kind of length,” said Bone, referring to the UTEP starters that included four players 6-foot-6 or taller. “Hopefully, this prepares us for conference.”
Lacy, who finished with six points and seven rebounds, said his team just didn’t come out with the energy needed to win at this level.
“This was the result,” Lacy said. “We’ve got to take it upon each individual to do better.”
D.J. Shelton, the Cougars’ 6-10 forward who scored nine points and grabbed 11 rebounds, echoed Lacy’s comments, saying that the players need to focus on playing a full game.
“Coach is getting tired of trying to coach effort,” Shelton said. “We have to rally ourselves.”
The game started slowly, with both teams missing shots. But UTEP started getting hot behind the shooting of Julian Washburn and Vince Hunter to take an early lead that the Miners never relinquished.
UTEP, coached by former Idaho coach Tim Floyd, led 28-17 at halftime after hitting half its shots. Their hot shooting continued in the second half when the Miners extended their lead to 19 points before the Cougars rallied behind Johnson.
WSU cut the deficit to eight on a jumper by Lacy with 2:03 to play, but UTEP made free throws as the Cougars’ shooters again went cold. The Miners had four players score in double figures, led by 15 from Hunter.
Bone said his team needs a few days off that should help them return refreshed for the start of the Pac-12 season. The Cougars next play Saturday at home against Mississippi Valley State before traveling to Arizona on Jan. 2.
“I told them, ‘We are better than that,’” Bone said. “This is a great group of kids. They are taking it hard. They really want to win.”