From the start, as the sold-out crowd stood quietly singing the National Anthem along with a solo trumpet player, as the members of the 1966 Texas Western National Championship looked on, it was a very special afternoon at the Don Haskins Center.
And there was a game to be played as well.
While the Miners looked down and out in the second half – trailing the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers by as many as 19 points – the crowd and the spirit of the championship team – seemingly willed the current Miners to first come from behind in regulation to tie WKU 77-77, then to a 93 to 89 win in overtime.
As was the case in the 1966 championship run – and in countless seasons afterwards – Head Coach Tim Floyd and UTEP turned to aggressive defense to get the job done.
“We’re down 70 to 55 at the eight minute mark and we decide to go back to our press (defense), which we ran early in the ball game and it helped us earlier,” UTEP head coach said, “Earvin (Morris) made the three and we got a layup and all of a sudden we had it down to 10, I think our guys understood how quickly they can turn this with a little poise,” Floyd said.
With the 12,000 Miner fans helping to ignite a comeback, the Miners response included a career high 32 points from Earvin Morris, while Lee Moore would score all of his 23 points in the second half.
Morris was bright all game long connecting on 11 of 24 shots from the field, but it was Moore’s second half performance that sealed the comeback win for the Miners going two of six from behind the three point line and hitting all five of his free throw attempts.
“Just staying aggressive, I felt like I was being aggressive early in the first half, but my shots weren’t really falling,” Morris said. “It just paid off…we know we’re putting in the work in the gym, our shots are going to fall.”
The Toppers edged out the Miners with 30 defensive rebounds to UTEP’s 20 offensive boards, but UTEP would capitalize on turnovers – scoring 24 of their 93 points off of them.
It was a game unlike any other this season or in any other season before, as UTEP celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Texas Western National Championship Team.
“I do think our guys were a little tight and nervous in the first half, but all those things are good and I think these kids, more importantly, which is what is all about are going to remember this game for the rest of their lives and remember why it was important and tell their kids why it was important.”
In attendance were the Haskins family, along with several members from the 1966 team. During time outs, the video board would display former coaches congratulating the Miners, as well a message from President Barak Obama during the halftime ceremony.
“It was great to actually meet them and get to see them and get a couple of signatures, that meant the world to me,” Morris said. “They did it here, they showed us how to win. We just wanted to come out and make sure that we got this victory for them to celebrate their championship.”
Floyd, who was mentored by the late Don Haskins, said he and his team were aware of the importance the game and event meant.
“We want them to understand that there was a lot of guys that played here that were great players, that are proud of this program, proud of what they did to help change college basketball,” Floyd said. “We hope that it helps them conduct themselves properly at all times, but also play with some pride.”