For the second straight year, the UTEP Miners take home the Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational, though no one said this one would be easy.
After squeaking by Western Illinois in the final five minutes on Saturday, the Miners grinded their way to 60-54 double overtime win against the hard fighting Denver Pioneers.
UTEP stepped out on this Sunday evening dance, and defended the Princeton like offense from the opening tip to until the 50th minute of the game.
Denver was held in to check to 2 of 9 shooting in the games first five minutes, then was 3/19 at the 6:51 mark, thanks to the Miners stiff man-to-man approach.
The Miners themselves struggled to get going on offense, as John Bohannon laid in UTEP's first field goal at the 13:40 mark, though at that 6:51 mark the Miners were in the midst of a 15-0 run, giving UTEP its largest lead of the entire game 17-4.
UTEP would ride out a 10-3 run by Denver to go up 20-14 at the half, UTEP shot 23.8 percent in the first frame, Denver was a rocky mountain freezing 21.4 percent from the field, both squads combined for 11 only field goals in the first half.
The Miners attacked the rim all night once again, and after two Vince Hunter free throws, the Miners held a 28-19 lead five minutes into the second half.
The Miner lead would stay steady as John Bohannon laid in two more of his 17 points, as it appeared the Miners were about ready to build on a 35-26 lead at the 8:56 mark to pull away.
Denver would go on a 9-2 run led by Cam Griffin as he put home a layup to cut the lead to 37-35 with just under five minutes left, then things would get super tight the rest of the way.
The Miners would jump back out to a 5-point lead thanks to a 3-point play by Bohannon, but UTEP would foul Marcus Byrd on a look from deep, enabling Byrd to get 2 out of 3 from the line, bringing the Pioneers to within one with under three minutes left.
Two John Bohannon free throws would put the Miners back up three as the clock ticked towards the two minute mark, and just as the clocked ticked under two, Jalen Love tied it up with a huge three-pointer that would end being the last field goal of regulation.
Julian Washburn would fumble it away, leading to Cam Griffin putting Denver up two with a pair of free throws as time creeped under a minute, 46-44 Denver.
C.J. Cooper would knot things back up at 46 with two freebies, and even had a chance to win it with 13 seconds left as he forced a tough runner in the lane after a Denver miss, thus giving Denver one last shot.
Jalen Love missed a good look at three as time expired at a put back chance as the game went into overtime.
UTEP held a 49-46 lead in the first overtime after two Cedrick Lang free throws, and was up 49-47 when Jalen Love nailed the only field goal of the period to tie the game for Denver once again with 34 seconds left.
Julian Washburn had his fade away look from an iso set carom off the rim as the buzzer sounded sending the game into double overtime.
Denver continued to find ways to score around the tough Miner defense as Love banged home another trey to give the Pioneers a 52-51 lead in the second overtime, then Chris Udofia made it 54-51 with a lay up as the extra, extra period headed under three minutes.
The Miners owned the glass all night as Vince Hunter grabbed his 10th rebound, which lead Cedrick Lang to find him on the next Miner possession for a lay up that would put the Miners back up 55-54 with a 1:48 left.
Hunter would split a pair of free throws giving Marcus Byrd a chance to give the Pioneers a late lead, but would miss fire on a 3-point opportunity that allowed the Miners to seal the night.
After the Byrd miss, C.J. Cooper drained his first long bomb of the game with 41 seconds left, he had came up empty on his first six attempts, but finally put the Pioneers away, walking off with UTEP's 30th Sun Bowl Invitational title in program history.
John Bohannon would garner MVP honors of the tournament, as he lead the Miners with 17 points and 15 rebounds ine the finale of the hoops fest at the Don. Cedrick Lang had 10 points and 8 rebounds, earning him a spot on the all-tournament team.
Cooper would finish with 15 points on 6/8 shooting from the charity stripe, assuming the full role as point guard, breaking a Pioneer press with his dribble for most of the second half and into the overtime sessions.
Coach Tim Floyd:
"Obviously we're real happy to get the win, We started off great, and had a nice little cushion there. We played a very disciplined team that didn't get outside of themselves when we got up. It was something our team can learn from, their poise offensively. They just kept coming at us, kept running their stuff and eventually broke us down for a three or a back cut and really guarded us. Baskets were hard to come from, We had one assist at halftime and I thought good gosh, But again, I credit their defense. They did a great job and we're not real fluid right now. We're making adjustments in the backcourt and we don't have a real flow coming into play. It's something we're going to work on. We've got nine days before our first conference game and we plan to maximize that time with our guys and see if we can't get a little better."
Though it was the signature Tim Floyd stat line that also helped win the game, for the 5th straight game UTEP attempted more free throws (36) than Denver made free throws (12).
The Miners shot a horrific 32.7 percent from field, but had 17 second chance points on 14 offensive rebounds, and won the boards in total 49-40.
Cam Griffin was an integral part of Pioneer second half run, as he had 15 points and 10 rebounds, Denver came into the game averaging 10 three-point makes a game, and only had 6 in the contest.
Their leading scorer Brett Olson was held in check by Julian Washburn, after hitting four three-pointers last night, Olson was held to 7 points on 3/7 and fouled out.
At 10-5 on the season, the Miners will now turn their focus to conference play which will start in nine days with the Charlotte 49ers coming in to El Paso on January 9th.