Not even a month ago, UTEP and Southern Miss squared off in Hattiesburg, MS in a contest that ended with a final score of 45-39. That wouldn't exactly be the case in Friday's rematch in the Conference USA semifinal.
The Golden Eagles were first on the board at 2-0 just 30 seconds in, and while it would take them a while to gain any significant advantage, that was about as close as the Miners would get for the rest of the afternoon.
Early foul trouble plagued the Miners as less than 12 minutes in John Bohannon, Cedrick Lang, McKenzie Moore, and Julian Washburn all had 2 or more fouls. Washburn, who has been the Miners' best offensive threat as of late, picked up his 3rd just more than 10 minutes in and was forced to the bench for the rest of the half.
With Washburn on the bench, the Golden Eagles began to increase their lead. The Miners were able to hold on for a while, keeping the deficit in the single digits as the three minute mark approached. But, after a big C.J. Cooper three to get the Miners within six at 37-31, Southern Miss turned it on and closed the half on an 11-0 run to take a 48-31 lead into the intermission.
Following the break, the Miners were much more competitive, and were able to get the lead down to as few as 10 with about four minutes to play, but it was just too little too late as they simply ran out of steam and fell by a final score of 85-67.
Cooper led the way for the Miners, scoring a career high 20 points. Julian Washburn finished with 13 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists on the afternoon, and Jacques Streeter finished with 10 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 assists, but also had 3 turnovers.
Southern Miss was led by Dwayne Davis who finished with a game high 27 points to go along with a couple of rebounds, and an assist. Jonathan Mills finished with a double-double, going for 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Jerrold Brooks had 13 points of his own.
For the Miners, it was simply the worst defensive performance of the year at the worst possible time. After holding Southern Miss to only 45 points in the entire game in Hattiesburg, they allowed them 48 in the first half alone in this one.
The Miners also allowed a season high 85 points, and a season high 58.5% from the field. The previous highs given up were 84 against Oregon in triple OT, and 55% in a loss at Houston. For a team that doesn't exactly score of ton of points, and prides themselves in their defense, this had to be as far away from the gameplan as possible.
The loss drops the Miners to 18-14 on the season, effectively ending any hopes of making the NCAA tournament, and most likely the NIT as well. News should come in the coming days on whether or not the team will be invited to take part in either the CBI or CIT, and whether or not they would even accept such an invite.
With the win, the Golden Eagles improve to 25-8 on the year, and greatly help their chances of making it to the big dance, with Memphis, for the second straight year. The Golden Eagles will take on the winner of tonight's second semifinal between Memphis and Tulsa, in tomorrow's championship game. That will take place tomorrow morning at 9:00 am M.T. on CBS, and will determine Conference USA's automatic bid.