FILE: Middle Tennessee vs UTEP in a CUSA match-up, Don Haskins Center El Paso
The Fourth seed UTEP Miners (15-16) meet top seed Middle Tennessee (28-4) in the semifinals of the 2017 Conference USA Championships. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network with tip-off at 10:30 a.m. MT on Friday morning.
The Miners advanced in the tournament with an 86-76 quarterfinal victory over Rice on Thursday. Earlier in the day, Middle Tennessee upended UTSA 86-70. The winner will advance to the championship game on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. MT/7:30 p.m. CT (CBS Sports Network).
UTEP has won 13 of its last 16 games, while Middle Tennessee has won 18 of its last 19; with the lone loss during that stretch coming at UTEP (57-54) on Feb. 4. The Miners overcame a 17-point second half deficit in that game to tie for their biggest comeback victory under coach Tim Floyd.
UTEP is 13-11 in C-USA Championship games, reaching the semifinals in 2006, 2008, 2013, 2015 and 2017 and the final in 2010 and 2011. The Miners’ all-time conference tournament record is 40-26 (includes a forfeit against Hawaii in the 1996 WAC Tournament). UTEP captured WAC Tournament crowns in 1984, 1986, 1989, 1990 and 2005.
UTEP is 8-4 all-time as a no. 4 seed in conference tournaments. The Miners are trying to make the final for the fourth time in six appearances as a no. 4 seed.
– UTEP leads the series 3-2.
– The teams are meeting in the C-USA Championship semifinals for the second time in three years. On March 13, 2015, the sixth-seed Blue Raiders upset the no. 2 seed Miners, 53-50, in Birmingham. The Miners led for much of the game, and 35-31 with a little over 10 minutes remaining before the Blue Raiders went on a game-changing 11-0 run.
– Players on this year’s rosters who appeared in that game are Giddy Potts, Edward Simpson and Reggie Upshaw for Middle Tennessee, and Omega Harris and Matt Willms for UTEP. Upshaw had 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks for Middle Tennessee.
THE DAVIS/FLOYD CONNECTION
– UTEP’s Tim Floyd and Middle Tennessee’s Kermit Davis were on the same coaching staff at Idaho for two seasons (1986-88). Floyd was the head coach and Davis was an assistant at the time.
– The Vandals were 35-25 during those two years and were runner-up in the Big Sky Conference in 1987-88 while finishing 19-11.
– When Floyd left to take the New Orleans job for the 1988-89 season, Davis took over as head coach and orchestrated back-to-back 25-6 campaigns. Idaho appeared in the NCAA Tournament in both 1989 and 1990 under Davis, losing a first-round game each time.
UTEP 57, MIDDLE TENNESSEE 54 (FEB. 4)
– Matt Willms scored nine of his 14 points in a game-ending 19-6 run as UTEP handed Middle Tennessee its lone conference loss of the season at the Haskins Center.
– UTEP trailed 39-22 with 14:08 remaining. The Miners outscored Middle Tennessee 35-15 over the final 13:46, holding the Blue Raiders to six field goals during that span. Middle Tennessee scored one field goal in the final six minutes, when it was outscored 15-4.
– The Miners made 9-of-10 foul shots in the second half and 15-for-18 for the game, none bigger than Willms’ two with eight seconds left that pushed a 55-54 lead to 57-54.
– After falling behind by 17, the Miners scored 11 consecutive points to pull within six (39-33). Middle Tennessee extended the lead back to double digits and was ahead 48-38 when Brandon Walters scored with 7:26 remaining. Then the Miners mounted their run.
– Willms scored five points in a 9-0 run that turned a 50-42 deficit into a 51-50 lead. When Omega Harris hit a jumper with 2:27 to play, the Miners had their first lead since it was 1-0.
– JaCorey Williams, who was a one-man wrecking crew for Middle Tennessee with 24 points and 10 rebounds, put the Blue Raiders ahead 52-51 on a jumper with 2:09 to go. He gave them a 54-53 lead by splitting two free throws with 37 seconds left.
– The Miners did the rest of their damage at the foul line, as Harris made two free throws with 22 seconds left and, after Edward Simpson missed a three-pointer, Willms made two more with eight seconds remaining. Middle Tennessee’s Giddy Potts missed a three pointer at the buzzer.
– Dominic Artis collected 13 points, seven rebounds and four steals. Paul Thomas had 10 points and six rebounds.
– Williams made 10-of-15 shots and 4-of-5 free throws for Middle Tennessee. But the Blue Raiders’ other stars, Reggie Upshaw (zero points, one rebound in 23 minutes) and Potts (nine points, 3-for-11 from the field) were held in check.
– Middle Tennessee uncharacteristically turned it over 19 times, which was the equalizer on a night where it shot 48.9 percent to UTEP’s 41.3.
– The Miners trailed 27-16 following a miserable offensive first half where they shot 20.8 percent (5-for-24), 0-for-7 from three-point range. In the second half, UTEP shot 63.6 percent led by Willms, who was 5-for-7 from the field.
– Dominic Artis led the Miners in points (26), rebounds (10) and assists (six) for the second time this season against Rice on Thursday. The first time was versus Southern Miss on Feb. 11. Overall it marked the fourth time he has achieved the feat in two seasons at UTEP.
– Artis’ .769 (10-for-13) field goal percentage against Rice was his best in a Miner uniform; previous best (minimum 10 attempts) was .688 (11-for-16) at Marshall on Jan. 28.
– Artis scored a season-high 26 points versus Rice. It was the second-most points in his college career behind the 33 he scored versus Marshall on Feb. 4, 2016.
– Artis’ next assist will be the 500th of his collegiate career.
– Artis has scored in double figures in 13 straight games, a career-long streak.
– Omega Harris picked up his ninth 20-point game of the season on Thursday, most by a UTEP player since Randy Culpepper had 17 in 2010-11.
– Against Rice, Jake Flaggert drew his 32nd charge of the season and the 56th of his career.
– Trey Touchet scored in double figures off the Miner bench for the third time in four games versus Rice.
– The Miners’ 86 points versus the Owls were their most in a C-USA Tournament game. The previous best was 85 points twice, against FIU and Marshall a year ago.
– UTEP led wire-to-wire for the third time this season against Rice. The Miners also led from start to finish versus the Owls on Feb. 18 in Houston, and on March 4 against Charlotte.