UTEP went over nine minutes without a field goal in the second half, during which time it was outscored 17-2, in an eventual 45-39 loss at Southern Miss on Wednesday.
The Miners (14-11, 7-5 C-USA) led for most of the first half, and for the first 10 minutes of the second half, before going ice-cold from the field. During a stretch starting at 12:52 remaining and ending at 3:45, UTEP shot 0-for-10 from the field, including 0-for-8 from three-point range. During that time Southern Miss (21-6, 10-2 C-USA) turned a 29-24 deficit into a 41-31 lead.
For the second time this season, the Miners allowed 45 points in a road game but came up on the short end of the scoreboard.
“It’s always frustrating when you don’t make shots,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “But at the same time, I’m very pleased with how hard our guys played on the defensive end. It was not like Houston, where we did not do anything on the other end.”
The Golden Eagles’ 45 points were 29 under their season average. Their 16 first-half points were a season low for a period.
“We held them to 33 percent [shooting], which is usually good enough to win. But unfortunately we shot 30 ourselves,” Floyd said. “We took a lot of threes [4-for-26], and did not shoot for percentage from the three-point line.”
UTEP was up 22-16 at halftime, holding Southern Miss to 30 percent shooting. Konner Tucker’s three pointer gave the Miners their largest lead (25-16) on the first possession of the second half. The Miners were still up by nine (27-18) when McKenzie Moore scored shortly afterwards.
After that, UTEP scored 12 points in 16 and a half minutes.
For a while, it looked like the Miners might be able to overcome their offensive futility. Neither team scored for two and a half minutes after Jerrold Brooks tied the game at 31 on a three pointer with 10:12 to play. But Rashard Gill broke the deadlock on a free throw at the 7:38 mark. That gave Southern Miss its first lead since 10-9 early in the game, and the Golden Eagles wouldn’t trail again.
Southern Miss didn’t shoot a free throw in the first half. The Golden Eagles were 8-for-13 from the stripe over the final 20 minutes.
“That is probably the big difference in the game,” Floyd said.
A key to the Miners building the halftime lead was their outrebounding the Golden Eagles 17-12. In the second half, Southern Miss controlled the glass 24-16. UTEP converted four offensive rebounds into six second chance points before halftime. The Miners scored two second chance points in the second half.
“I was pleased with some of our offensive board work in the first half. We didn’t get many in the second,” Floyd said. “In games like this, where you’re struggling scoring and shooting, you’d love to have second chance opportunities. We just fired up way too many threes, probably the most we’ve taken all year long.”
Moore led UTEP with 12 points and 11 rebounds, his first career double-double. No other Miner scored more than seven points. Brooks (13 points) and Neil Watson (11) were Southern Miss’ scoring leaders.
The Miners will play their final non-conference game on Saturday at I-10 rival NM State at 7 p.m. MT. UTEP has C-USA games remaining at home versus Houston (Feb. 27) and Memphis (March 5), and at Rice (March 2) and SMU (March 9).
Senior Associate Athletic Director/Communications and University Relations