RUSTON, La. – The UTEP men’s basketball team clawed back from a 10-point second-half deficit before ultimately coming up just short, 60-58, at LA Tech Saturday afternoon.
Tae Hardy’s potential game-winning 3-pointer was off the mark for the Miners (8-7, 1-3 C-USA), allowing the Bulldogs (10-6, 3-2 C-USA) to escape with the victory.
UTEP opened up the second half on a 9-0 run to all but erase a 37-27 halftime deficit. The Miners eventually pulled even at 40-40, but LA Tech answered with an 11-1 surge to put the Orange and Blue down by 10 (51-41, 8:20 2H). They refused to quit, getting within one point on three separate occasions, but couldn’t quite complete the comeback.
Both teams shot a similar percentage (UTEP-42.9; LA Tech-43.1) and had turnover troubles (18 for UTEP, 17 for LA Tech). UTEP registered only four turnovers in the second half, which allowed it to spark the comeback.
The Orange and Blue won the boards (33-29), marking the fifth straight game they were even or better. There were four ties and three lead changes, but UTEP was playing catch up for most of the day.
LA Tech finished the game 10-14 from the charity stripe compared to 11-20 by the Miners. Otis Frazier III (13 points), Shamar Givance (11 points) and Mario McKinney Jr. (10 points) all reached double figures in scoring. Givance also recorded five assists, giving him at least five helpers in eight of the past 10 contests
Calvin Solomon added six points and a game-high 11 rebounds while Kevin Kalu pitched in six points and six rebounds in a solid effort off the pine.
“That’s your typical Saturday Conference USA slugfest,” UTEP head coach Joe Golding said. “Both teams are trying to attack the paint and are really good defensively. We pride ourselves on the defensive end of the floor. The first half (down 37-27 at half) cost us the game. We did a good job of controlling the pace.
“Our margin for error is so small,” Golding said. “In close games you’ve got to value the basketball and to make free throws, and we went 11-20 at the line tonight. We are just leaving a lot of points on the board. I challenged them (at halftime), and I thought they responded well. In the second half we fought.”
“We’re a tough team, we’ve got grit and toughness,” Golding said. “We just need to continue to get better on the little things.”
It was a bit sloppy at the onset of the contest. There were seven combined turnovers between the squads through the first four minutes of action, with the score knotted at five with 15:55 left in the first frame.
It continued to be back-and-forth over the next few minutes, with a jumper by Jamari Sibley making it a one-point game (16-15, 10:41 1H) in favor of LA Tech. The Bulldogs, though, ripped off seven consecutive points to put the Miners down eight (23-15) and prompt a timeout from Golding. LA Tech nudged its advantage to double digits (25-15) before a Givance fadeaway jumper halted the surge.
It remained a 10-point differential (27-17) before a mini 5-0 run courtesy of Frazier III cut the deficit in half. He drained a triple before finishing a reverse lay-up on the feed from Carlos Lemus. The Miners eventually crawled within four (29-25), with a 3-pointer from Lemus in the stretch, only to have LA Tech close the half on an 8-2 push to put UTEP down 10 (37-27) heading into halftime.
UTEP ripped off nine straight points to begin the second half, with a triple by Hardy followed by an offensive putback from Kalu. Solomon then went 1-2 at the charity stripe. After another stop by UTEP, Frazier III’s lay-up made it a two-point game (37-35). Solomon then came up with a steal and Frazier III was fouled where he went 1-2 on the line to get the Miners within one.
The Bulldogs halted the stretch with their first points of the second half nearly five minutes into the stanza, but Kalu’s dunk on the ensuing possession resulted in a one-point game (39-38, 15:02 2H) again. Following a free throw from the home side, a turnaround floater from Ze’Rik Onyema tied things up at 40 with 13:01 left to play. The Bulldogs responded with eight straight points before Frazier III brought an end to the run with a free throw, allowing the Miners to trim it to seven (48-41, 9:31 2H).
LA Tech nudged it back out to double figures (51-41), but UTEP refused to quit by peeling off five straight to climb within five (51-46, 6:17 2H). After the margin moved to six, Givance splashed home a wide-open 3-pointer, resulting in a one-possession affair (54-51, 3:33 2H). UTEP came up with a stop and then two clutch free throws by Kalu brought the Orange and Blue to within one (54-53).
LA Tech answered immediately with a trey, but a free throw from Givance trimmed the deficit to three (57-54, 1:47 2H). Both sides had empty trips the next couple off possessions, with UTEP calling its final timeout with the ball and still down three with 31 seconds left.
The Bulldogs fouled with 25 seconds left where McKinney Jr. calmly sank a pair to make it a one-point tilt (57-56). The two teams traded quick scores before LA Tech went 1-2 at the line to put the Miners down two (60-58) with 8.8 seconds left. UTEP worked the ball around and found Hardy, but his shot was off the mark.
UTEP returns home to play host to UTSA for “Military Appreciation Night” at 7 p.m. MT on Wednesday (Jan. 11). The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Jon Teicher (42nd year) and Steve Yellen (20th year) will be on the call on “The Home of UTEP Basketball” 600 ESPN El Paso. Tickets are available by visiting www.UTEPMiners.com/Tickets or by calling (915) 747-UTEP.