RUSTON, LA. – Dominic Artis came up one assist shy of registering only the second triple-double in school history, but UTEP came up just short at LA Tech on Sunday, 78-70.
Artis finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and four steals for the Miners (11-11, 3-6 C-USA), who will start the second half of their Conference USA schedule at home this week against Marshall (Thursday, 7:05 p.m.) and WKU (Saturday, 3 p.m.). On Saturday, the 1966 national championship team will return to El Paso and be honored on its 50th anniversary.
UTEP fought gamely at LA Tech (16-5, 5-3 C-USA) on Sunday but committed a season-high 23 turnovers – leading to 19 points for the Bulldogs – and couldn’t get the stops on defense necessary down the stretch.
LA Tech also went 11-for-15 at the charity stripe in the second half.
“We had a goal to not get beat at the foul line on the road, which has been a real problem for us,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We were in really good shape. We gave up six free throws in the first half. For the most part we did a pretty good job. That’s why we played zone tonight, which is not what I like to do.”
The Miners led 33-32 at the half, fell behind by nine points in the second half, then closed to within four twice in the final two and a half minutes. After Hooper Vint – who battled foul trouble – scored to make it 68-64 with 2:18 to go, LA Tech’s Erik McCree converted a layup of his own to push the lead back to six. After Artis made two free throws with 1:45 to play, Alex Hamilton scored a layup to extend the lead to six again. Artis split two free throws, then Merrill Holden started a run of four straight points for the Bulldogs with free throws. That put LA Tech ahead 76-67 with time ticking away.
“We gave up too many good looks in the second half when we tried to go man with about six minutes to go. It was brutal,” Floyd said. “They scored on three consecutive possessions and we paid a price. By and large there was some improvement other than the ball handling. We’ll try to go back home and see if we can’t do some things a little better when we get back to El Paso.”
Positives for the Miners … they outrebounded only their second league opponent of the season (38-34). They shot 50.9 percent from the field and kept the Bulldogs under 40 percent up until the last few minutes.
They also did a decent job on Bulldogs stars Hamilton and McCree for 26 minutes before they came alive down the stretch, combining for 19 points over the final 13:27.
LA Tech finished 12-for-27 from three-point range with Jacobi Boykins (5-for-7) and Dayon Griffin (4-for-9) combining to go 9-for-16. The Bulldogs were 7-for-18 from outside in the first half. That, coupled with the Miners coughing up the ball 15 times, kept the Bulldogs in it despite shooting 30 percent and getting outrebounded 23-14 over the opening 20 minutes.
All five starters scored in double figures for LA Tech with Boykins (18 points) leading the way. Griffin added 16, Hamilton and McCree 14 each, and Holden 12. McCree grabbed 13 rebounds.
Artis shot 9-for-16 from the field and 4-for-6 from the line.
“We got great play from Dominic Artis tonight, which was really encouraging,” Floyd said. “He played at a high level. But not so good play from several others. Too many turnovers. We had 15 at the half. We could’ve been up 12, 14 in the first half. But it was mistake after mistake handling the ball with our guys.”
Terry Winn scored 13 points, while Omega Harris and Earvin Morris added 10 apiece. Harris scored the first six points as UTEP marched to a 6-0 lead. The Miners were up by seven (21-14) with eight minutes remaining in the half, but LA Tech went on a 14-4 run to lead 28-25.
The Miners will be home for four of their next six games and five of the final nine as they complete the back end of their C-USA slate.