Charles Oliver scored 15 of his 22 points in the first half, and Norfolk State made a killing at the free throw line in an 85-76 win over UTEP on Monday night at the Don Haskins Center.
The Spartans (5-7) dropped the Miners (6-5) into the consolation game of the WestStar Bank Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational. UTEP will face Sam Houston State on Tuesday at 5 p.m.
Norfolk State made 28-of-30 foul shots, including 21-of-22 in the second half, in dealing the Miners their fifth consecutive loss. The Spartans also shot 46 percent from the field and made 9-of-18 three-point shots.
“I thought their guard play was terrific,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “They ran good stuff. I thought they took great shots all night long. We knew they could shoot it, and the thing that was troublesome was they could also drive it. I thought we got out of whack with shot fakes and drives. They were able to turn the corner and get it into the paint on us consistently where we had to provide help because we could not contain our own guy.”
Norfolk State’s starters were a combined 19-for-19 at the charity stripe, and Jeff Short was 8-for-9 in a reserve role. The Miners were outshot 28-15 at the line.
“That’s a bad stat at home when the road team shoots that many more free throws than the home team,” Floyd said. “That’s no reflection on the officiating. It’s an inability to contain the dribble on our part.”
UTEP got off to a slow start, trailing 9-1 in the first two minutes. The Miners led just once, 29-28 on a three-pointer by Omega Harris with 4:55 remaining in the half.
Norfolk State led 53-50 with about 13 minutes left in the game before going on a 10-2 run to forge a 63-52 advantage. The Miners sliced it to six (69-63) on a three-point play by Lee Moore with 5:51 remaining. UTEP had a chance to get closer, but Hooper Vint turned it over and Harris fouled the Spartans’ Preston Bungei with five seconds on the shot clock. He made both free throws, Norfolk State went up 71-63 and the Spartans were in control thereafter.
“I don’t know if anybody talks about not fouling as much [as we do],” Floyd said. “That’s what’s so disappointing, especially given time, score, game situation right there.”
Short scored 18 points and Bungei added 15 for Norfolk State, which outrebounded the Miners 43-26 and tallied 17 second-chance points.
“We got pounded again on the boards, and not by a very big and physical team,” Floyd said.
The Miners allowed 70+ points for the sixth game in a row and 80 or more for the third time in that stretch.
“We don’t want to be a zone team,” Floyd said. “We want to try to improve the guys that we have so that we have an opportunity to play in close games and tight games in our league late in the season. But it’s a big frustration with the inability to stop people. This has been my worst defensive team in my career. But we’re going to keep working on it. And we’re going to keep trying to get better.”
There were some positives for the Miners. Dominic Artis (6-for-12 from the field, 4-for-7 from three), Earvin Morris (5-for-11 from the field) and Lee Moore (3-for-5 from the field) showed signs of coming out of their shooting funk. The Miners scored 27 points off 19 Norfolk State turnovers. They had 17 assists and only 11 turnovers themselves.
“All that being said, we’ve got a long way to go,” Floyd said. “I’m not going to make excuses about this team. We’ve got guys that should be better defenders than they are. Lord knows we have spent hours and hours and hours on it. But we’re getting exposed right now. We just have to continue to work.”
Artis led the Miners with 18 points. Harris added 16, Morris 12 and Moore 10.
In Monday’s opening game, UC Irvine dispatched Sam Houston State 63-53. The Anteaters will face the Spartans for the titleon Tuesday at 7.
Author: Sun Bowl Invitational