UTEP Rallies But Falls To Rice In OT, 72-67

EL PASO, Texas – The UTEP men’s basketball team overcame a 15-point second-half deficit to force overtime before ultimately falling to Rice, 72-67, at the Don Haskins Center Saturday afternoon.

The Miners (8-6, 1-2 C-USA) trailed the Owls (11-3, 2-1 C-USA) 49-34 with 11:35 to play in regulation and were still down 12 (60-48) with 3:23 remaining before mounting a furious rally. The Orange and Blue closed the stanza on a 14-2 run, including Calvin Solomon making 1-2 at the charity stripe with 1.1 seconds left to send the contest to OT.

UTEP, which suffered its second straight OT loss, got on the board first in the extra period, but the Owls tallied five in a row to secure a lead they would never relinquish. The Miners have now played four overtime contests this season, the most since having five in 2011-12.

The Orange and Blue limited Rice to 38.1 percent shooting, including 29.6 percent from 3-point range. UTEP also forced 18 turnovers that led to 15 points. The Miners hit 40.0 percent from the floor but were 5-26 on 3-pointers and 10-20 at the charity stripe.

Mario McKinney Jr. came off the bench to score a team-high 17 points while Shamar Givance added 12 points, eight rebounds and a game-high six assists. Solomon flirted with a double-double (nine points, eight rebounds) while Otis Frazier III and Kevin Kalu both pitched in five points and five boards.

There were three ties and seven lead changes. Rice was paced by 19 points from Quincy Olivari. Max Fielder (14 points, 15 rebounds) and Cameron Sheffield (11 points, 16 boards) notched double-doubles for the Owls. 

“First of all, give credit to Rice, they’ve got a good basketball team,” UTEP head coach Joe Golding said. “It was just a frustrating night for us overall, we couldn’t really get anything going. If you’re going to be in close games, we’ve got to get better at a lot of stuff.

“You’ve got to take care of the basketball, we had 18 turnovers, that’s way too many,” Golding said. “You’ve got to rebound the basketball, it was even on the glass, we should outrebound them on the glass. And then we didn’t make free throws. It’s hard to win close games when you do those things. You’re playing with fire, and it’s burned us now with Kent State, UAB and now this game.”

UTEP jumped out to a 5-0 lead two minutes into the contest with a turnaround floater in the paint by Ze’Rik Onyema followed by a triple from Tae Hardy. The Owls countered with six straight points to go up by one (6-5, 14:57 1H) before Kalu’s fastbreak dunk, off the steal and feed from Hardy, halted the surge.

It was back-and-forth over the next several minutes with the Miners maintaining a one-point differential (14-13) midway through the half. They nudged the advantage out to five (20-15, 8:29 1H), including back-to-back baskets from Onyema and Derek Hamilton.

Rice had an answer, however, peeling off 16 in a row over the next six minutes to suddenly secure an 11-point cushion (31-20, 2:39 1H). McKinney’s second-chance lay-up halted the run, and UTEP eventually clawed within seven (32-25) heading to halftime.

Solomon came up with a steal and score early in the second half to trim the deficit to five only to have Rice rip off five consecutive points to grab a 10-point advantage (37-27, 16:19 2H). It remained a double-digit deficit (60-48) with just 3:23 left before the Miners began to make their move.

Jamari Sibley (five points, four boards) started the surge with a triple, which was followed by an old-fashioned 3-point play from McKinney Jr. to cut the deficit in half (60-54, 2:31 2H). After UTEP forced a turnover, Givance was fouled and sank a pair of free throws to cut the margin to four. Rice nudged the differential back to six with an offensive putback before Givance hit a triple.

UTEP then got a stop and McKinney raced up the court for a fastbreak score to make it a one-point tilt (62-61). The Miners forced another empty possession for the Owls with a blocked shot by Kalu. UTEP then took the ball up the court and had it knocked out of bounds with three seconds left.

The Miners inbounded to Solomon, who pump faked and was fouled to be awarded one-and-one free throws. He sank the first to tie the tilt and earn the bonus, but his second one rattled out to send the game to overtime.

Kalu’s driving lay-up put the Orange and Blue up, 64-62, in the extra session, but five straight points afforded the visitors a 67-64 cushion with 2:24 to play in OT. The Miners had some chances down the stretch but couldn’t get over the hump.

UTEP is idle for a week before playing at LA Tech at 1 p.m. MT/2 p.m. CT on Jan. 7. The game will be broadcast on 600 ESPN El Paso and streamed on CUSA.tv (subscription required). The Miners will be vying for a season sweep.