Northern Arizona shot a season-high 53.7 percent from the field, including 57.7 percent in the second half, in handing UTEP a 76-74 loss on Saturday night at the Don Haskins Center.
The Lumberjacks (3-9), who entered the game shooting 35.4 percent from the field and 29.3 percent from three-point range, also made eight three-pointers to snap a four-game losing streak. UTEP (2-7) dropped its sixth consecutive game.
“The 74 [points] should be enough for us to win and it wasn’t,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We gave up too high of a percentage again, 53.7 and 38.1 percent from the three-point line on our home floor, and they’re simply unacceptable numbers. We’ve just got to continue to work on it.”
The Miners appeared headed to a runaway victory when they scored 16 of the game’s first 20 points. UTEP led 22-14 midway through the first half but was outscored 20-7 over the last 9:43 to fall behind 34-29 at the intermission.
UTEP took a three-point lead (43-40), its largest of the second half, on a three-pointer by Omega Harris with 15:48 remaining. Mike Green gave Northern Arizona the lead for good, 56-55, on a layup with 9:37 to go.
The Miners were down by eight (72-64) with a little over three minutes to play. They pulled within three twice, the last at 74-71 on another Harris triple at the 1:14 mark. Harris missed a potential game-tying three with 17 seconds left. The Lumberjacks made a couple of free throws, rendering Deon Barrett’s three-pointer right before the buzzer meaningless.
“We had too many turnovers in the first half with an eight-point lead,” Floyd said. “We had consecutive travels and a step out of bounds and it kind of turned the momentum, and we haven’t won enough to really value being in a tight one right now. I think a little doubt set in.”
Harris led the Miners, who had four players in double figures, with 22 points. Jake Flaggert established career-highs for points (15) and three-pointers (five). Dominic Artis collected his sixth career double-double (11 points, 12 assists), and Matt Willms contributed 10 points and seven rebounds.
Jordyn Martin led Northern Arizona with 18 points. The Lumberjacks crushed the Miners on the boards, 38-24, leading to 13 second-chance points.
“We did not rebound it against an inferior size team. Credit them and their effort coming on the road,” Floyd said. “They did a really nice job. We had just a terrific amount of defensive breakdowns, which are frustrating when you get it to two or four where it’s invariably either a lack of a defensive board, a putback or a guy catching it deep right around the rim with a little shot fake and make a basket and plus one. Interior defense is not very good. And we’ve got to continue to work, is all I can tell you.”
The Miners will wrap up the pre-Christmas portion of the schedule by participating in the WestStar Bank Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational on Wednesday and Thursday. UTEP will face Maryland Eastern Shore on Wednesday at 7, following the Akron-UC Irvine matchup at 5. The consolation and championship games are at 5 and 7 p.m., respectively, on Thursday. Sun Bowl Invitational tickets are available by calling (915) 533-4416.