The Miners came out of the locker room in an all sprint in their quarterfinal game against Marshall on Thursday night. UTEP jumped out to an early 12-5 lead on a Julyan Stone made bucket, and they would continue to build on that lead for most of the first twenty minutes. The Miners used a 26-6 run over an 8 minute span to turn a three point lead into a 23 point lead at 44-21 with three minutes left in the first half. The Herd then showed some life, and gained a bit of momentum heading into the locker rooms by cutting the UTEP lead to 18 at 46-28.
Marshall carried that momentum into the 2nd half, starting with a 9-0 run to get within nine at 46-37. The game came as close as seven points with 13 minutes to go, but an alley oop dunk from Randy Culpepper to Jeremy Willliams shifted momentum, and the Miners soon pushed the lead back up to 15. In the end UTEP came up with a big 77-65 win over a quality team to advance to the semifinals of the Conference USA tournament. Their opponent, which was determined in the night cap, will be the Tulsa Golden Hurricane.
In my opinion, this game was a display of great coaching, and senior leadership, and as great as a performance it was, there's still something to take and improve on. Obviously, this team was prepared extremely well. These guys just exploded out of the locker room, and it was amazing to see, but they also fell asleep just a bit, and allowed a very dangerous team to come back within striking distance. Credit to the Miners for keeping their poise, and taking back control of the game, but we need to figure out how to just put teams away.
Six of the seven miners who saw significant playing time scored in double figures. Gabe McCulley led the Miners with a huge 14 points and 9 rebounds, and Julyan Stone put up another double double with 12 points and 10 boards. Randy Culpepper had a quiet night with 12 points, Christian Polk and Jeremy Williams had 11 each, and Claude Britten finished with 10 points off the bench. John Bohannon, the only other Miners to play significant minutes, finished with a solid 7 points, and 4 rebounds. Johnny Thomas led the way for the Thundering Herd with 13 points, Tirrell Baines, Damier Pitts, and Shaquille Johnson all had 12 points a piece, and DeAndre Kane finished with 11 points and 7 rebounds.
If the Miners can put a full 40 minute ball game together, it will be amazing to see. When these guys are on, they can play with a lot of teams. Its just a matter of consistency. Tomorrow's semifinal with Tulsa with be anything but easy. This season Tulsa has knocked UAB, Memphis, and Southern Miss, as well as split with the Miners, so they have proven just how good they are. Hopefully the Miners can come out, and match the intensity we saw today. If they do, it should be another fun one to watch. Tip off is set for 2 p.m. MST, make sure to get your tickets.
----Miner fans, today we had a good showing of fans in the Don, but we know that we can do MUCH better than that. Your team has an opportunity this year to play the conference tournament on their home floor, and its something that shouldn't be taken for granted. Not only is this a chance to watch some high quality college basketball, but your team has a great opportunity, and they need you, now more than ever. Get out there, support your team, and sell out the Don! Go Miners.