Tuesday night the UTEP Miners entered the Don Haskins Center preparing to take on the Memphis Tigers for the last time as C-USA foes. It was a game that the Miners felt they could win coming in, but it just wasn't meant to be.
Like has been the case for many of the Miners' games over the last weeks, it was slow and sloppy from the start. Both teams played extremely well defensively, and neither team was able to get much going on the offensive end.
It was the Miners who drew first blood, jumping out to an early 5-1 to lead, but the Tigers answered right back, and the two team teams slugged it out for the rest of the half. While the lead was swapped five times in the first twenty minutes, neither team enjoyed more than a four point advantage, and the game was knotted at 22 at the break.
The second half was played with a little more pace, and this time it was Memphis who opened up the largest lead, going up 39-32 with 12:30 to play. But, the Miners weren't done. They used a 10-1 run over the next 3:27 to to regain the lead at 42-40, and the teams would trade blows the rest of the way.
The Tigers managed to get the lead back to five at 56-51 with 2:21 to play, and while the Miners continued to fight hard, they were just unable to capitalize on a few late opportunities, and wound up falling 56-54.
Julian Washburn led the way for the Miners with a game high 19 points on 6-9 shooting. Cedrick Lang finished with 10 points and 7 rebounds, and Jacques Streeter had 7 points to go along with 6 rebounds and 3 assists.
Memphis was led by Chris Crawford, who hit a few big second half shots, and finished with 15 points on the night. Adonis Thomas had 11 points and 9 rebounds, and Tarik Black finished with 9 points and 6 rebounds.
Both teams shot nearly identical percentages from the field, with the Tigers holding the slightest of advantages at 42.3%, compared to Miners' 42.2%. Memphis also won the rebounding battle 38-25, but were also forced into 16 turnovers to just 12 for the Miners.
Coach Tim Floyd had this say following the game:
"We got beat by one of the better teams in the Untied States. They really did a solid job in all areas, on the road, in a hostile environment. We had our opportunities. We had some chances at the free throw line late that we didn't convert...They played spirited defensively. They crushed us on the glass...It's a great team. One of the more talented teams I've coached against. I'm really proud of our guys' effort. I think we've got to continue to try to grow. We've got two practices before we go play SMU. It'd be nice to win that game, and try to get opposite [Memphis], and try to win a couple games, and have another shot at [Memphis] in the finals."
Despite some miscues down the stretch, it was a spirited effort from the Miners tonight, and a glimpse into just how close this team has been all season. While there have certainly been some ups and downs, as expected from a young team, they have competed hard, and have been extremely close to winning a ton of games.
Hopefully those wins will come. Maybe in the C-USA tournament, or maybe next year and in years to come. The good news is, as it stands today we'll be retaining our head coach, at least for the time being.
Of course, naturally, much was made of the reports by the LA Times that coach Tim Floyd had interviewed for the job at USC. As Floyd put it; "I was not offered a job, nor was I looking for a job". That's sweet music to the ears of Miner fans, and now we can look ahead to SMU, and the Conference USA tournament.
Up next, the Miners will take on SMU in the season finale Saturday in Dallas, and it should be interesting. Not only for the actual game itself, but because of the venue as well. Due to renovations currently being done to Moody Coliseum, that game has been moved to on alternate site. Tipoff is slated for 1:00 p.m. MT, and as always make sure to follow all the coverage here at Miner Rush.