Elijah Brown scored 25 points, including the game-winning jumper with five seconds left, as New Mexico edged UTEP, 78-77, on Wednesday at WisePies Arena – The Pit.
It was another classic in the long-time rivalry, renewed for the first time in five years. UTEP came back from 21 down in the first half and went toe-to-toe with the Lobos before 11,838 hostile fans, but couldn’t hold on to a three-point lead in the final 30 seconds.
“It’s why the Miners and the Lobos should always play. There’s too much history,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “I felt it in the building from their fans. It was electric. They’ve got a great program. I’ve got so much respect for this school and what they’ve represented in the basketball world, just like I have for New Mexico State and Arizona and all these desert Southwest schools.”
UTEP (2-5) trailed 27-6 with a little over 12 minutes remaining in the first half. The Miners outscored the Lobos (6-3) 27-10 over the next nine minutes to pull within four (37-33) on a three-pointer by Dominic Artis. UTEP trailed 47-39 at halftime.
The Miners got down 13 early in the second half, but went on an 18-4 run and took their first lead, 62-61, on a three-pointer by Deon Barrett with 9:41 left.
Neither team led by more than four points in a final 10 minutes that featured four ties and six lead changes.
UTEP had its biggest lead of four (72-68) when Barrett made two free throws with 5:19 to go. The Lobos would tie it twice, 72-72 at the four-minute mark and 74-74 with 1:02 to play.
Barrett broke the deadlock on a three-pointer with 30 seconds left. Jordan Hunter scored quickly for New Mexico to make it 77-76. Artis was fouled with 18 seconds remaining but missed the front end of the one-and-one, setting up Brown’s heroics.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” Floyd said. “I didn’t think we were necessarily playing scared early, they just made every shot. And we did have two turnovers back-to-back and dug ourselves a heck of a hole. I thought Elijah stepped up and made a big-time shot at the end of the ballgame. We had our opportunity. We didn’t convert. We got to the line. But we grew a lot from last weekend to this game, and a lot of that had to do with Omega Harris being back in the lineup.”
Harris scored 14 of his 22 points in the first half. The star of the second half was the freshman Barrett, who scored 25 points in 17 minutes and made seven of eight three-pointers. The seven threes tied for the fourth-most in school history and tied the UTEP freshman record. UTEP made 15 three-pointers – seven from Barrett, four from Harris, three from Artis, one from Touchet – to tie the school record.
The Miners made 15-of-29 threes, including 9-of-15 in the second half. They assisted on 22 of 27 field goals as Artis recorded 12 dimes to go with 13 points and five steals.
“We tried hard, we worked hard, I thought we played smart,” Floyd said. “I thought we played within ourselves. The difference was the foul line. They got there more than we did. And when we got there late, we didn’t convert. These are great learning experiences. There will not be a more difficult venue in our league to play in this year, and that will certainly help us as we move forward.”
Sam Logwood and Hunter scored 11 and 10 points respectively for New Mexico. The Lobos shot 56.8 percent and went 21-for-32 from the line to UTEP’s 8-of-14. They outrebounded the Miners 31-26, largely off a 10-1 edge early.
The Miners will play their second straight rivalry game when they host NM State on Tuesday (Dec. 13) at 7 p.m. Wednesday’sloss was something to build on.
“We got better from our last ballgame. And we got better throughout the course of this game,” Floyd said. “You look at the start of the game and the poise that we played with down the stretch, I thought it was important.”