Dominic Artis scored eight of his 25 points in overtime as UTEP outlasted Alaska, 87-85, in the Miners’ exhibition finale on Saturday afternoon at the Haskins Center.
Artis’ jumper tied the game at 85 with 56 seconds left. After the Nanooks’ Nahjee Matlock turned the ball over, Artis made the game-winning free throws with six seconds left.
Alaska made 15 three-pointers and had 22 more shot attempts (78) than the Miners (56) on a day where UTEP shot significantly better and had a +12 rebounding advantage. The Nanooks also scored 21 points off 23 UTEP turnovers.
“That little team we played did a real nice job,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “That was good for our guys to be in a game where time and score meant something, although we didn’t handle the situations real well.”
The big development for the Miners was the return of junior center Matt Willms, who had been sitting out due to a stress reaction in his foot. Seeing his first court time since the Orange & White Scrimmage two weeks ago, Willms played 14 minutes, made all four of his shot attempts and scored 10 points.
Terry Winn had 19 points and nine rebounds for UTEP, and Omega Harris scored 10 points in 23 minutes after halftime as the coaching staff looked at freshmen Chris Barnes, Deon Barrett and Tim Cameron over the first 20 minutes.
“It was nice to see Matt Willms out on the floor again for a few minutes,” Floyd said. “We would’ve liked for Paul Thomas to play longer and get more than 14 minutes. That would’ve been good for him in his development. It was nice to get Deon Barrett out there in situations and let him play and be able to find out what he can do, and Chris Barnes for some meaningful minutes.”
The Miners got off to another slow start, trailed 8-2 and didn’t take their first lead until 13:19 remaining in regulation when Artis sank a three-pointer for a 50-48 lead.
UTEP went ahead 55-48 on an offensive rebound and putback dunk by Kelvin Jones at the 9:35 mark, but Alaska rallied with seven straight points to knot the score. The Nanooks led 74-70 with under a minute left before Trey Touchet converted a four-point play with 40 seconds remaining.
The Miners mounted another comeback in overtime as they trailed 85-80 with two minutes left. They shut out the Nanooks after that, scoring seven unanswered points with the last four coming from Artis.
“We play for real here in another week,” Floyd said. “Fans saw some exciting ball, although it may not be as pretty as what everybody wanted. Our goal is to try to get Matt Willms healthy where he can play about 30 or 32 minutes a game and then get some support from these other guys. [Matt is] tentative and unsure, but we’re still better with him than we are without him. We’ve got to get better with our decision-making. Too many turnovers. We’ll try to grow from all of those things.”
The Miners utilized various lineup combinations as they continue preparing for a season that is right around the corner.
“We tried a lot of different things,” Floyd said. “We wondered what it would look like with two big guys, Kelvin and Matt out there at one time. We wondered what it would look like with three point guards out there. Something else I would’ve liked is three point guards and Jake Flaggert as a fourth in a pick and pop game with one of the bigs, which we didn’t quite get to. But that’s what these games are about.”
UTEP shot 53.6 percent to Alaska’s 37.2 and outrebounded the Nanooks 50-38.
The Miners will tip off the regular season against Louisiana College next Saturday (Nov. 12) at 7 p.m. UTEP season tickets are on sale now by calling (915) 747-6150.
“We’ll obviously be better in March than we are in October,” Floyd said. “We just need to grow with all these guys, and we will. I think it’s going to be fun to watch their growth.”