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Western Kentucky guard Camron Justice shoots a 3-pointer in WKU’s 75-72 win against Southern Miss on Saturday at E.A. Diddle Arena.

Playing with an edge has turned out to be the big deciding factor in wins and losses for Western Kentucky. Whether it’s against the top or bottom teams in Conference USA, the Hilltoppers aren’t deep enough to go to their options when they’re not getting enough from certain players.

That “edge” which Rick Stansbury frequently references could’ve been the difference in two losses two weeks ago in Florida, and it was the difference in a big win against Louisiana Tech and a squeaky win against lowly Southern Miss last Saturday.

“The thing we have to continue to do is give us a chance to play with that edge and play with maximum effort,” Stansbury said Tuesday before the team’s practice at E.A. Diddle Arena. “We’ve been doing that pretty close to the edge as we can. We don’t have much wiggle room or room for slippage there.”

The Hilltoppers (16-8 overall, 9-3 C-USA) will need that edge again to endure their longest road trip of the season this week in Texas. WKU will visit El Paso to play UTEP (13-12, 4-8) on Thursday and fly to San Antonio for a 2 p.m. Saturday game against UTSA. Both teams feature two of the top scorers in C-USA between the Miners’ Bryson Williams and the Roadrunners’ Jhivan Jackson.

In order to keep at least a second-place standing in C-USA before Bonus Play begins next week, the Hilltoppers will need that extra energy that could have been the difference in their last road trip. WKU lost two games at FAU and FIU by a combined nine points where it didn’t have any contributions from its bench.

“Those two games in Florida were one-possession games down the stretch,” WKU senior Jared Savage said. “We just have to find a way to grit out one more possession, maybe the first play of the game. That might be the decider. Stay together for 40 minutes on the road. We’re not going to have any fans down there, I don’t think. We’ve got to go get these two.”

The difference in this road trip will be the contributions of Camron Justice, who returned to the lineup as a key factor off the bench in the team’s last two wins. Justice has dealt with a nagging back injury since early January, but provided WKU the extra push it needed with 23 combined points.

WKU led practically wire-to-wire against Louisiana Tech, then had to climb from a 10-point halftime deficit against Southern Miss where Justice hit a 3-pointer as the dagger with 21 seconds remaining.

“It just allows guys to have more energy their entire time they’re out there on the floor,” Justice said. “It’s hard to play 40 minutes of college basketball at a high level. I feel like I’m giving us some release and no drop-off when I’m out there. I think it’s just better in the end.”

Justice’s services will be needed at UTEP when the Miners look to snap a three-game losing skid on “Texas Western Night.” Williams leads UTEP working dominantly from the power forward spot, averaging 18.7 points per game as the conference’s third-leading scorer.

Williams has scored over 30 points on three occasions this year and is a three-time C-USA Player of the Week winner this season. Souley Boum is second on the team in scoring with 12.2 points per game and ranks seventh nationally with a 90 percent free-throw rate. Daryl Edwards, a graduate transfer from LSU, averages 10 points per game and has nine 3-pointers in UTEP’s last two contests.

The Miners’ five Division-I transfers helped them tie for fourth in the C-USA preseason poll, but they enter Thursday night ranked 10th in the league standings.

“UTEP is as talented as anybody in our league,” Stansbury said. “They’re capable on any night. For whatever reason it hasn’t worked out. They’ve got the best player in the league in the Williams kid, five Division-I transfers in that program. It was clicking earlier than they are now. That doesn’t change their talent. That talent can all come together and be as good as anybody in this league down the stretch.”

Western Kentucky (16-8, 9-3) at UTEP (13-12, 4-8)

8 p.m. CST, Thursday, Don Haskins Center

Western Kentucky – Taveion Hollingsworth, g, 6-2, jr. (14.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg); Jordan Rawls, g, 6-1, fr. (8.3 ppg, 2.3 apg); Jared Savage, g/f, 6-5, r-sr. (11.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg); Carson Williams, f, 6-5, r-jr. (13.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg); Josh Anderson, g, 6-6, jr. (10.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg)

UTEP – Souley Boum, g, 6-3, r-so. (12.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg); Jordan Lathon, g, 6-4, so. (4.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg); Eric Vila, f, 6-11, r-jr. (3.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg); Bryson Willliams, f, 6-8, r-jr. (18.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg); Daryl Edwards, g, 6-3, g-sr. (10.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg)

TV – Stadium on Facebook

Radio: WKLX 100.7 FM

Coaches: Rick Stansbury (78-50, fourth year; 371-216 overall), Western Kentucky; Rodney Terry (21-33 second season, 147-141 overall), UTEP.

Series Record: Western Kentucky leads the all-time series 5-1. WKU won the last meeting 76-59 in Diddle Arena on Feb. 2, 2019.

Last time out: Western Kentucky won 75-72 against Southern Miss on Saturday. UTEP lost 72-53 at Old Dominion on Saturday.{&end}

– Follow WKU athletics beat writer Elliott Pratt on Twitter @EPrattBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.

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