Keonte Kennedy - Photo by Jon Washington

UTEP edged by Middle Tennessee in OT 66-59 in C-USA Quarterfinals

FRISCO, Texas – The UTEP men’s basketball team dropped a heartbreaker in overtime to Middle Tennessee, 66-59, In the quarterfinals of the 2022 Conference USA Men’s Basketball Championships at the Star Thursday evening.

It marked the first OT game at the C-USA tournament for UTEP since the 2012 league championships.

The Miners (19-13) trailed by 12 (34-22) with 15:53 to play in the contest before uncorking a 22-7 run on the way to leading by three (44-41) with 6:28 remaining in regulation. It was back-and-forth the rest of the way. The contest eventually went to overtime where the Blue Raiders (23-9) outlasted UTEP during the extra session.

Jamal Bieniemy (13 points, three assists), Souley Boum (12 points, nine rebounds, UTEP C-USA tournament record seven steals) and Keonte Kennedy (11 points, 10 rebounds) led the way for UTEP. Tydus Verhoeven pitched in five points and eight rebounds before fouling out while Jamari Sibley notched five points to go along with three blocked shots. Alfred Hollins (seven points) and Christian Agnew (six points) both made contributions off the bench.

The Miners held Middle Tennessee to 39.0 percent (23-59) from the floor and forced 13 turnovers that were converted into 12 points. UTEP also had a slight edge in fastbreak points (13-12).

“Those guys played their heart out for UTEP,” UTEP head coach Joe Golding said. “They battled, they competed and they gave it everything they had. Our defense was pretty consistent all night. Give Middle Tennessee credit too. They fought and battled too. It was a great college basketball game.

“These guys played cared. They played for UTEP and they played for El Paso,” Golding said. “I think it showed all year, and it definitely showed tonight.”

MT scored the first four points in the game, but UTEP responded with a 9-2 run to grab the lead at 9-6 with 13:55 to play in the opening period. Bieniemy started and ended it with baskets, including a score in transition after he came up with a steal. MT tallied the next seven points to go back up by four (13-9, 11:40 1H).

The two sides traded scores the next several minutes, with the Miners refusing to let the Blue Raiders pull away. An old-fashioned 3-point play by Agnew made it a three-point game (21-18) with 2:58 to left in the half. After consecutive scores from MT put the Miners down seven, Agnew buried a corner trey off a feed from Verhoeven to cut the deficit to four (25-21). That remained the score heading into halftime.

The Blue Raiders opened up the second half on a 9-1 push to put the Miners down by double digits (34-22, 15:53 2H). UTEP struck back with seven straight points to cut the deficit down to five (34-29, 12:38, 2H). Bieniemy started it with a driving lay-up, followed by the hoop and some harm from Hollins. Bieniemy capped it with another lay-up.

The Miners were just getting started, though, completing the aforementioned 22-7 run to suddenly vault into the lead with 6:28 left. MT answered with six straight points briefly retake the lead before a pull-up jumper from Boum knotted the score at 47 with 2:31 to play in the contest.

After MT went back ahead with a pair of free throws, Sibley nailed a 3-pointer to propel the Miners ahead at 50-49 with 1:21 remaining in regulation. Two free throws by the Blue Raiders gave them the advantage, but Kennedy’s driving lay-up in traffic put the Miners up, 52-51, with 41 seconds to play.

MT was fouled on the ensuing possession and split a pair of free throws to forge a 52-52 tie. Kennedy’s chance to win it at the buzzer didn’t go, sending the contest to overtime.

The two sides traded scores to begin overtime and the contest was knotted at 56 with 2:32 left in the overtime session. The Blue Raiders then tallied five straight points to lead 61-56 with 39 seconds to play. Boum buried a 3-pointer to make it a two-point game (61-59), but the Miners couldn’t get any closer as MT closed out the game at the charity stripe.

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