EL PASO, Texas – Senior Alfred Hollins tipped in a shot at the buzzer to lift the UTEP men’s basketball team to an exhilarating 70-68 win over Conference USA East Division leader Florida Atlantic at the Don Haskins Center Thursday evening.
Souley Boum poured in 28 points, Jamal Bieniemy fought through early foul trouble to add 16 points and Tydus Verhoeven added a season-high 12 points to go along with five big rebounds, but Hollins set off a celebration for nearly 4,500 Miner faithful when his tip-in off a 3-pointer from Bieniemy was ruled good after a brief review.
The Miners (12-8, 5-3 C-USA) have now won four straight and five of the past six games, including Thursday’s thriller vs. the Owls (11-9, 4-3 C-USA). The four wins have been by a combined 20 points, demonstrating UTEP’s mettle.
“First off credit to Florida Atlantic, that’s a really good team,” UTEP head coach Joe Golding said. “I thought it was a great college basketball game. We fought a ton of adversity with (Jamari) Sibley going out in the first minute. Credit to our guys, they continue to fight and handle adversity. I’m proud of them.
“To see Alfred (Hollins) with a second-effort play to win the game, I’m just proud of him,” Golding said. “He’s playing really well down the stretch.”
Christian Agnew added seven points, four rebounds, two helpers and two steals off the bench while Hollins finished with five points and +14 in 20 minutes of action.
UTEP bolted out to an 18-7 lead over the first nine minutes of the contest, aided by a 13-1 push after the visitors got on the board first. Boum had seven in the sequence. The defense was smothering, forcing the Owls to misfire on eight straight shots and a scoring drought of more then
The advantage was 20-10 midway through the period (10:30 1H), with UTEP hitting 8-10 from the floor to begin the game. FAU was 4-15 during the same sequence. After FAU cut it to eight (20-12), Bieniemy drained a trey to push the lead back to 11 (23-12) with 9:47 to play in the first half.
The visitors countered with a run of their own to get the Miner lead down to one at 28-27 with 4:17 to play in the frame, but UTEP struck back. Bieniemy made a driving lay-up, which was followed by a trey from Agnew to vault the Miners back up six (33-27, 3:07 1H). The Owls responded with 11 in a row, but Boum nailed a three on UTEP’s final possession of the half to make it a two-point game (38-36) going into the locker room.
The Miners opened the second half on an 8-4 run, including a four-point play by Boum from right in front of UTEP’s bench. After FAU clawed back to tie it at 44, back-to-back baskets from Verhoeven put the Miners up by four (48-44) with 13:19 remaining in regulation. The advantage was five (52-47) after a Ze’Rik Onyema lay-up forced a timeout for FAU.
Following a trey for FAU, Bieniemy nailed a pull-up jump to once again reinstate a five-point lead (55-50 with 11:31 to play). It was a four-point UTEP edge (60-56) before five straight from FAU put the Miners down 61-60 with 7:07 to play. That ignited a wild stretch with lead changes on five straight possessions, with the Miners down just two (66-64) with 3:52 remaining in regulation. Verhoeven evened the game with a baby hook, giving him 12 in the game.
The Miners would not trail again, and it was tied at 68 after UTEP got a big stop with 12 seconds left. After Bieniemy’s first shot didn’t fall, but Hollins gracefully tipped it in to set up the celebration.
UTEP will look to make it a perfect week at home and extend the winning streak to five when it plays host to FIU on Saturday (Jan. 29).