Darnell Harris scored 21 points, including a crucial layup with 1:24 remaining, as Middle Tennessee made plays down the stretch and slipped past UTEP, 78-72, on Thursday night in Murfreesboro.
Harris’ bucket put the Blue Raiders (9-5, 1-1 C-USA) up 74-70 after Earvin Morris missed a three-pointer that could’ve given the Miners (10-6, 2-1 C-USA) the lead. UTEP again pulled within two (74-72) on two free throws by Lee Moore with 26 seconds remaining, but Giddy Potts found Reggie Upshaw for a layup to break the Miner press.
After Omega Harris missed a three-pointer, the Blue Raiders’ Perrin Buford closed it out with free throws.
“We had our opportunities to win on the road,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “The guys did some good things. Eight turnovers is a great number. We gave up 22 second-chance points, 17 offensive rebounds, big play after big play after a stop defensively. We were pleased with the defensive effort, but part of the defensive effort is securing the ball off the defensive glass. Terry Winn went back and got his share. We didn’t have enough other guys helping him in that situation.”
Moore scored 20 points, and Winn posted his second double-double of the season with 16 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. Hooper Vint added 12 points.
Buford had 15 points and eight rebounds for Middle Tennessee, and Upshaw recorded 12 points and 12 boards.
The Blue Raiders made their first four three-point attempts, and six of their first nine, to bolt to a 26-14 lead midway through the first half. Trailing by 10 (30-20), the Miners closed the half with a 14-7 run to get within three (37-34). Moore connected on a three-pointer with three seconds left to make it a one possession game.
UTEP led twice in the second half, at 40-39 (17:23 mark) and 47-45 (15:02 mark). Middle Tennessee scored the next six points.
The Blue Raiders went ahead by nine points (70-61) with 7:45 remaining after completing an 8-2 run. They were up by eight (72-64) with under five minutes to go before UTEP mounted one last rally.
Moore scored the next six points to make it a two-point game before Harris and Upshaw came through in the clutch.
The Miners turned in a much more competitive effort on the boards. They were outrebounded 44-39 (25-20 in the second half) and yielded 12 second-chance points, six in each half.
Middle Tennessee made four more three-pointers (nine to five), but UTEP finished 21-for-26 at the line to the home team’s 11-for-19.
“They’re a good basketball team,” Floyd said. “We couldn’t get our arms around them early with our man-to-man. They made us pay shooting the three. Buford, Harris, guys who we knew could shoot it did and knocked it down and we didn’t close out. They had 26 in the first 10 minutes and they had  in the next 30 minutes, and 22 of the  were putback baskets. We’ve got to continue to try to grow in that area and try to look at different guys to put in those situations.”
In the end, it was something for a young team to build upon against a formidable opponent playing on its home floor.
“We had our opportunities,” Floyd said. “Down two [72-70] we missed a wide-open three that would’ve put us up one. Give them credit, they did a really nice job in everything that they did against us. We just didn’t make enough plays down at the end.”
The Miners will play at defending league champion UAB on Saturday at noon MT. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.
Author: UTEP Athletics