Dominic Artis sank the game-winning jumper right before time expired, giving the UTEP Miners a breathtaking, 88-87 double overtime victory over FIU on Thursday night in the Haskins Center.
Artis finished with 18 points, nine rebounds, 10 assists and three steals as the Miners (3-13, 1-3 C-USA) ended a 12-game losing streak and posted their first win since Nov. 18.
“It worked out good for him,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We ran a little action for him late with one second to go that we would’ve normally run for Omega. We were very fortunate. The ball was deflected, he got the shot off, and made a big shot.”
With 1.6 seconds on the clock, Jake Flaggert inbounded the ball. FIU’s Eric Lockett got a hand on it but couldn’t secure it, the ball went to Artis and he nailed the fadeaway. Officials took considerable time to review the shot before ruling that it did indeed come before the buzzer (replays showed that the ball was out of Artis’ hand with 0.4 seconds left).
UTEP rallied from a 45-41 deficit with 12:58 remaining in regulation with an 18-0 run, then squandered a 14-point lead (59-45) over the last 7:08 as FIU forced overtime. The Panthers (4-13, 0-4 C-USA) outscored UTEP 21-7 down the stretch.
“When those leads are given up, it’s generally poor offensive decisions, missed free throws and turnovers, and that’s what happened,” Floyd said. “And then they ran a couple of really nice actions. When you’ve lost 10 in a row, you’re real indecisive when you get in these tight games. Let’s face it, we’ve not had a 14-point lead either. So playing with the lead was an issue for us.”
Artis was big in the first overtime as well, making two free throws with nine seconds left to tie it at 77. The Panthers’ Eric Nottage, who made two threes in the first overtime, missed one with a second left that could’ve given his team the win.
In the second overtime, Nottage put FIU ahead by four (87-83) on a basket with 46 seconds left. Artis hit a three-pointer to make it a one-point game with 34 seconds remaining before coming up with the game-winner.
The Miners had numerous heroes. Omega Harris scored 20 points for the third consecutive game. Paul Thomas had a career-high 19 points with 11 rebounds. He made his first seven shots and finished 7-for-8 from the field. Trey Touchet scored in double figures for the second time as a Miner with 11 points, and he provided some much-needed stability at the line (6-for-6) for a UTEP team that finished 16-for-30 at the stripe.
UTEP also received a major assist from a crowd of 5,696 that was thirsty for a win.
“Our crowd was great,” Floyd said. “We’re glad they showed up and they gave us a lot of support. I doubt we win that one on the road.”
The Miners won the battle of the boards, 47-35, against one of C-USA’s top rebounding teams. They shot 49.3 percent to FIU’s 44.8 percent.
UTEP placed four players in double figure scoring for only the fourth time this season.
“I was real, real proud of Paul Thomas’ performance tonight,” Floyd said. “It was really nice to see him rebound the ball like he did, and maybe he can get a grasp that when big guys rebound they tend to score. Trey Touchet, it’s nice to see him get his head up as well. Trey lives in the gym with Dominic. They’re in there every day, shooting, shooting, shooting for hours and hours. And he has really struggled making shots. He made a shot tonight, got his head up, had a nice drive, made free throws off of technicals, stepped up to the line when he hadn’t shot many free throws all year long.”
The Miners received eight points and seven rebounds from Matt Willms, and nine points, eight rebounds and three blocks from Kelvin Jones.
“Kelvin is a young talent that’s learning how to play and every minute that he gets is very, very valuable,” Floyd said. “I thought he was really more effective than Matt tonight. We have had issues in some games with some of our bench players coming in and the game changing with turnovers, and decisions, fouls, etcetera in tight games. So we went with Matt down the stretch, but Kelvin arguably could’ve been out there. He did a nice job.”
FIU, playing without two starters in leading scorer Donte McGill and Cameron Smith, had six double-figure scorers as Kimar Williams led the way with 16 points.
UTEP will try to post consecutive wins for the first time this season when it hosts Florida Atlantic on Saturday at 7 p.m.