BIRMINGHAM, ALA. – Lee Moore scored a career-high 30 points, 22 in the second half, as UTEP advanced to the C-USA Championship quarterfinals with an 85-77 victory over FIU on Wednesday night at Legacy Arena.
The Miners (19-13) will face third seed Marshall (16-15) at 7:30 p.m. MT on Thursday. The game will be televised on the American Sports Network. UTEP beat Marshall in a wild affair, 112-108 on Feb. 4 at the Don Haskins Center.
On Thursday UTEP led by 15 points in the first half, only to see the Panthers (13-19) rally to take a three-point lead in the final five minutes before closing the game with an 18-7 run.
“FIU played like they wanted to play tomorrow. They really competed,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “They forced it into a really interesting game at the end with their poise offensively, their ability to kill us on the offensive board, and they went back and had second-chance opportunities in both halves. They stepped up and made big shots.”
Donte McGill scored 16 of his 24 points in the second half for FIU. Daviyon Draper added 17 points and Adrian Diaz had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
The Miners had two runs in the first half. The first was 10-2 and extended a 13-12 lead to 23-14. The second was 10-4 and pushed a 28-19 advantage to 38-23. UTEP led 40-29 at the half.
The Miners had their difficulties at the free throw line to start the second half and FIU was able to hang around as a result. The Panthers cut the lead to single digits early in the frame and, off an 18-8 run, pulled within one (56-55) with 9:49 to go. When Diaz made two free throws with 5:01 to play, FIU had its first lead (67-65) since 3-2.
Draper’s three at the 4:19 mark allowed the Panthers to match their largest lead of three points (70-67). Dominic Artis answered with a three for the Miners to tie it. That started a run of 10 straight points that put UTEP up 77-70 and back in charge.
Moore scored 10 points in the final 3:22. He finished 8-for-9 from the field and 12-for-12 from the line with seven rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Earvin Morris scored 25 points, 15 in the first half, for the Miners. Artis added 11 points, five rebounds and five assists with no turnovers for a UTEP team that only had seven giveaways.
The Miners shot 51 percent and the low turnover number was crucial on a night where they were outrebounded 43-24.
“We feel very fortunate to have gotten out with a win given that we were outrebounded by 19 boards,” Floyd said. “I think a key stat for us was the seven turnovers. I think Dominic played a very good floor game. He is doing a much, much better job than the first eight or 10 games. The guy didn’t play a year ago and he’s a terrific player.
“Our guard play was outstanding. Earvin got off to a great first half. We had a terrific second half from Lee Moore. But I thought they all played great floor games offensively. The ball moved tonight. It didn’t stick in anybody’s hands.”
The Miners showed some moxie, recovering after losing a big lead.
“I was really proud after we got down three and we really had a chance to just cave it in there,” Floyd said. “But we got a couple of stops, a couple of run outs and a couple of nice, nice finishes. We had 30 points off of turnovers tonight. That’s unusual for our ballclub and probably a real key stat.”
UTEP improved to 9-2 in its first game of the Conference USA Tournament with seven straight victories, six in a row under Floyd.
Now the Miners will try to solve the high-scoring Herd on Thursday.
“We are playing a terrific player in each of their guys at each spot,” Floyd said. “We think [Jon] Elmore is one of the great point guards in our league and certainly [James] Kelly and [Austin] Loop. You can just go on and on. They can just flat score the basketball and they have against everybody.”