The UTEP Miners nearly pulled off another stirring comeback victory, but Dominic Artis’ three-pointer with four seconds remaining was no good and LA Tech held on for a 62-61 victory on Thursday in El Paso.
UTEP (8-15, 6-5 C-USA) had its 10-game Conference USA home court win streak snapped, despite cutting an eight-point deficit down to one in the final four minutes.
“We talked about the things that we’ve been doing well and I thought we did them again tonight,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We blocked out on free throws and guarded all of their inbounds plays except for one, which ended up in a big three. We did some good things. We are still growing. That’s a very, very good team. That team may end up in the NCAA Tournament. They’ve got a lot of weapons.”
Derric Jean put the Bulldogs (17-8, 9-3 C-USA) ahead 62-54 on a free throw with 3:45 to play. The Miners would score the next seven points and the Bulldogs wouldn’t score again. But UTEP missed two chances to win it in the final minute. Artis turned it over with 42 seconds left before missing the three.
“Big turnover with  seconds to go, throwing the ball on the wing to Omega,” Floyd said. “It shouldn’t have been thrown. We were trying to go to the post on a wing post pass that we’ve run many, many times. Big turnover there and too many missed free throws down the stretch.”
On the final play, Floyd said, “It was a high screen and roll where we bring Omega to the backside because there’s no help and we’re wanting them to help off of [Omega] and then [Omega] catch and direct enter to Matt Willms on the block. If they’re late recovering to [Omega], [Omega] drive by and dish Matt, two-man game back side of the floor. They did a nice job of guarding it.”
UTEP was victimized by a 13-for-23 night at the foul line. That was a key stat, as was LA Tech making 7-of-15 three pointers in the second half and 11-of-26 for the game.
The Bulldogs maintained their stranglehold on second place in the C-USA standings, while dropping UTEP into a five-way tie for fifth place after sweeping the season series.
The first half went the Miners’ way for the most part, as they led by as many as nine (28-19) and went to the locker room up 30-24.
LA Tech used a 21-3 run early in the second half to turn a 32-24 deficit into a 45-35 lead.
Erik McCree led the Bulldogs with 19 points and eight rebounds. He was 4-for-4 from three-point range, including 3-for-3 in the second half when he scored 14 points.
“We had a bad four or five minutes there to start the second half,” Floyd said. “They just got on fire. We kind of had McCree under control. He’s a great player. He made us pay with some threes.”
The Miners placed four players in double figure scoring – Omega Harris (14 points), Matt Willms (13), Artis (12) and Paul Thomas (11). UTEP matched LA Tech on the boards (33-33) as Thomas led the way with 13 rebounds.
DaQuan Bracey dished out seven of his 10 assists in the second half for LA Tech, which shot 29.2 percent in the second half but heated up to 50 percent (14-for-28) over the final 20 minutes.
“We had an opportunity to win,” Floyd said. “They’re a good basketball team. We can live with their defensive field goal percentage [.404]. The threes were the difference in the game. We didn’t find and locate, we didn’t get as much out of our point zone tonight as we have been getting. It had a lot to do with their ability to shoot it.
“We got a good look there late. You’d like to think that we can step up and make it but we didn’t. We make the shot, we’re ecstatic right now and talking about winning another one. It didn’t go down.”
The Miners will host Southern Miss on Saturday at 7, completing a four-game homestand. The game will feature a halftime performance by the Air Elite Dunk Team.
Gallery by Andres Acosta, Chief Photographer – El Paso Herald-Post