Dominic Artis scored all 18 of his points in the second half as UTEP built a big lead, fell behind by seven points, then rallied for a 78-73 victory over Southern Miss on Thursday at the Haskins Center.
The Miners (16-11, 8-6 C-USA) just missed breaking the school record by scoring 80 points for a fifth straight conference game. But more importantly, they extended their winning streak to five in a row heading into a showdown with LA Tech on Saturday at 4 p.m. MT in the Haskins Center.
“We got off to a terrific start,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We let it get away from us with really shoddy ball-handling there for a stretch. That’s not taking anything away from a very good defensive team. They do a really nice job.
“Omega [Harris] and Dominic were not very good in the first half. They were very good in the second half. That was a big difference maker. Lee Moore was terrific in the first half. He didn’t care that he didn’t make a point in the second half. He kind of deferred to what was going on, which is a real credit to him.”
The Miners, who laid a 17-0 run on Southern Miss in the first half of last year’s meeting at the Haskins Center, scored the game’s first 13 points on Thursday. Moore (five points) and Earvin Morris (six) combined for 11 of the 13 points.
Southern Miss (7-17, 4-9 C-USA) trimmed a 25-14 deficit down to one (29-28) with a 14-4 run. UTEP led 36-34 at the half behind Moore, who scored 16 points.
The Golden Eagles took their first lead of the night, 41-40, on a jumper by Tim Rowe with 16:06 remaining. Cortez Edwards’ layup with 11:08 to play completed a 14-3 run and gave Southern Miss its biggest lead at 50-43.
Artis started to assert himself offensively, scoring 10 of the next 15 points for the Miners. His jumper at the 6:32 mark gave UTEP the lead for good, 58-56.
There were some anxious moments down the stretch, as Southern Miss pulled within one (66-65) on a Kourtlin Jackson layup with 2:44 to go. But Harris hit a big three-pointer with 2:18 remaining and the Golden Eagles couldn’t get closer than three the rest of the game.
“We didn’t turn it over much late,” Floyd said. “We still do some things in the game that really leave me scratching my head. A lob pass that we throw up six with 32 seconds to go to a guy, when all we’ve got to do is take it out and go get fouled. Those kinds of plays can get you towards the end of the year in all different kinds of situations.”
While the Miners didn’t quite get to 80 points, they did enjoy an efficient offensive night.
“We shot [58 percent] in the second half of the game and 46 percent from the three-point line. We shot 52 percent [overall],” Floyd said. “We scored pretty well. But we couldn’t get our arms around Khari Price and Jackson late. They are a very well-coached team, as we all know here in El Paso. Doc does a terrific job. We feel very fortunate to get a win.”
Besides the 18 points, Artis had five rebounds and seven assists for the Miners. Moore scored 17 points, Harris 13, and Terry Winn added 10 points and seven rebounds before fouling out midway through the second half.
Jackson scored 17 points. Price had 14 points and five assists and Michael O’Donnell, making his return from an injury, scored 11 points off the bench.
“You can see how they played UAB to double overtime last week,” Floyd said. “They played with a lot of poise, moved the ball well and took good shots. They got really good guard play. All their bigs can step out and shoot it, which really makes it a difficult game for guys like Hooper Vint to play in. We’re pleased with the win and we’ll have an even bigger challenge here on Saturday against a Louisiana Tech team that is playing exceedingly well right now. They just beat UAB and they have two of the top five players in the conference.”
Saturday is the annual “Noche Latina” game with, once again, an early tip-off of 4 p.m. MT.