Zoran Talley made two free throws with 2.5 seconds left, and officials ruled that Matt Willms’ tip-in came after the buzzer sounded as Old Dominion held on for a 62-61 victory at UTEP on Thursday night.
The Monarchs (19-10, 12-5 C-USA) clinched the no. 3 seed in next week’s Conference USA Championship. UTEP (13-16, 11-6 C-USA) will secure the no. 4 seed and a first-round bye in the tournament with a win over Charlotte on Saturday at 1 p.m. The Miners can also get the no. 4 seed if Rice loses at WKU Saturday night.
The Miners inbounded the ball with 2.1 seconds left. Omega Harris missed a jumper and Willms tipped it in for the apparent game winner. House replays showed the ball leaving Willms’ hand with 0.1 seconds on the clock. But the officials ruled the clock wasn’t started immediately on the inbound, meaning Willms’ shot came after time had run out.
“Really well-played game by two very good teams, two very good defensive clubs,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “Real proud of our guys and our execution. Omega obviously stepped up and made a couple of really big shots late. Dominic Artis did as well. I thought we defended exceedingly well down the stretch and a couple of big plays may or may not have gone our way.”
The Miners trailed 51-40 – their largest deficit of the game – with 7:17 remaining. They nearly pulled off their fourth win in C-USA play when trailing by double digits in the second half. But this one wasn’t meant to be.
UTEP was down 53-45 with 5:54 left, but went on a 16-5 run over the next five minutes and took a three-point lead (61-58) on an NBA-range three-pointer by Harris with 1:03 to go. After Talley made a jumper with 52 seconds remaining to cut it to one, Dominic Artis was fouled with 19.5 seconds left. He missed both free throws.
Following a jump ball call on the other end that awarded the ball to ODU, Paul Thomas was whistled for a foul with 2.5 seconds on the clock. Talley, a 60 percent foul shooter, swished both for what turned out to be the decisive points.
“The foul with [2.5] seconds to go, from our vantage point it looked like a kickout leg and shot. You expect that. But their guy makes two free throws,” Floyd said. “I thought we had good execution there on the last inbounds play. We got it right where we needed to get it. We got a great look. These guys wear these clocks on their hips. I thought they were the ones that were supposed to start the clock.”
Originally it appeared Willms’ shot was good, but the officials took time to review before waving it off.
“A guy marks it good, so it’s got to be irrefutable,” Floyd said. “And apparently he felt like, based on looking at his little thing on his hip versus the other, that [the clock] may not have started on time from the scorer’s desk. How would I know without looking at things, but I know it’s got to be irrefutable when they mark the basket good. It’s where it is.”
The Miners struggled mightily offensively in the second half – at one point going eight and a half minutes without a field goal — before coming alive behind Trey Touchet, who scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half.
A personal 10-0 run by Touchet carved a 48-38 deficit down to 53-48. Jake Flaggert got the Miners closer on a three-pointer with 3:45 to play, setting up the wild finish.
Harris led the Miners with 14 points. Touchet made 3-of-5 shots, 2-of-3 three pointers and 4-of-4 free throws. Artis had 11 points and six assists, and Thomas scored 10 points.
Talley scored 17 points for Old Dominion, and B.J. Stith added 12. The Monarchs outscored UTEP 8-0 in second chance points in the first half in building a 31-27 lead after the Miners led by seven a few times early.
“I thought Matt [Willms] was not allowed to do his thing down there,” Floyd said. “I thought it was a very physical game in the first half. We started playing through screen and roll in the second half. I thought that Talley, who was a 60 percent free throw shooter, stepped up and made free throws when they needed it. Omega stepped up with a couple of big-time shots that really helped us. We got great play from Trey Touchet tonight. I thought Paul played well also.”
UTEP’s five-game win streak came to an end, while Old Dominion won its fifth straight.
“The last time we lost a game here at home, 62-61, was LA Tech [Feb. 9] and we went on a five-game win streak after that,” Floyd said. “So we’ll have to regroup and get it behind us. I thought our guys played with their hearts and souls and I thought our fans were fabulous. Absolutely great. And we’ll move on to the next one.
“The three losses that we’ve had during this stretch, we had a chance to win every game. I couldn’t be prouder of our guys, I couldn’t be prouder of how they have conducted themselves in representing this school. We’re going to come out and we’re going to play spirited again on Saturday afternoon.”
Saturday is Senior Day and Artis’ final home appearance for the Miners. Tickets are available by calling (915) 747-5234, with all seats in the non-Gold sections $8 and $10.
Gallery of photos courtesy Andres Acosta, Chief Photographer – El Paso Herald-Post