Old Dominion rocketed to an 18-point first-half lead, watched UTEP close the gap to four with 5:51 remaining, then outscored the Miners 19-2 down the stretch in a 74-53 victory on Thursday at the Constant Center.
The Miners (17-12, 9-7 C-USA) saw their six-game winning streak come to an end as they matched their season-low for points.
“We got beat by a really good defensive club tonight,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “I thought that Old Dominion, when we closed it to four, really guarded us down the stretch. Their big kids got everything off the defensive board and offensive board late. I’m really impressed with [Brandan] Stith and his physicality. I thought it was a big factor in the game. I’m really impressed with [Zoran] Talley. He’s going to be a heck of a player.”
Stith (16 points/15 rebounds) and Talley (16/10) both had a double-double for the Monarchs (16-12, 9-6 C-USA). The Miners were crushed on the boards, 51-26, reverting to their early season rebounding woes after being decent on the glass (+1.9 rebound margin] over the previous 10 games.
Old Dominion outscored UTEP 47-30 in the paint on a night where it didn’t need a big game from Trey Freeman. C-USA’s leading scorer was held under 20 points for just the second time in 15 league games, finishing with 14 on 6-for-15 shooting.
The Monarchs scored the game’s first 11 points and led 17-2 just six minutes in. The Miners were never in it in the first half, falling behind 31-13 two minutes before halftime.
But UTEP had plenty of fight in the second half, and when Terry Winn scored at the 5:51 mark it was 55-51. That completed a freshmen-driven 7-0 run with four points from Trey Touchet and three from Winn.
Old Dominion scored the next four points at the foul line. Lee Moore made it 59-53 on a layup with 5:13 to go. The Monarchs closed the game with a 15-0 run, doing most of their damage after Winn fouled out with4:50 remaining.
“I thought our guys really played hard in the second half,” Floyd said. “Our offensive inefficiency in the first half was attributed to Old Dominion. Our guys were squared up when we tried to drive. The help was there when we tried to drive. When our guys got ready to shoot it, they closed out on it really hard. You’ve got to give credit to what was going on. And then when we missed shots, we only got one. And when they missed a shot in the first half, they got two and they got three. And to me that was a big difference in the ball game.”
Omega Harris was the only Miner in double figures with 11 points, although Dominic Artis, Moore and Winn all scored nine. Touchet added eight off the bench to tie his career high.
The Miners shot 26.9 percent in the first half and 35.1 percent for the game.
They outscored Old Dominion 33-20 to start the second half before faltering late.
“We just changed our approach to offense [in the second half],” Floyd said. “We just played out of a high screen and we thought that spacing might provide us some shots in rhythm, which I think it did. If we could’ve maybe got over the hump then maybe that old pressure would’ve reverted back, but it just didn’t. We just came out and tried to spread it a little bit, tried to press, tried to change the pace of the game. We weren’t willing to sit there and get beat by 30, which is where it was at the half.”
The Miners fell a half-game behind the Monarchs and now face an uphill battle to earn a top-four seed and a bye in the C-USA Tournament, which is two weeks away.
“I’m not sure that we are [still in it],” Floyd said. “I think this one right here might’ve really stung us because of the tiebreaker when we go head up with these guys. I can’t imagine them losing two down the stretch. I don’t see that happening.
“We’ll have to play [early in the tournament]. We’ve known that for a long time that we are probably going to have to play. We’ve made reservations to go out there pretty early. We’ve been pleased that we’ve won these six in a row, and we didn’t beat our kids up. They’ve played really hard during this stretch and they played hard in the second half. We just ran into a really good defensive club and a team that’s got good players. They did a really nice job tonight.”
The Miners will play their final C-USA road game of the season on Saturday at Charlotte. Tip-off is 5 p.m. MT. There is no television for the game but it can be heard on KOFX 92.3 FM (English) and ESPN Deportes 1650 AM (Spanish).