There would be no slow start in this one for the Miners, at least not in the first half. UTEP jumped ahead early, eventually owned as much as a 20 point lead, and walked out of the Don Haskins Center with the 19th win of the season.
Julian Washburn got things going early, scoring seven points in the first seven minutes of the game, while leading the Orange and Blue to an early 15-7 lead.
Freshman Matt Willms would get in on the action soon after that, scoring five straight for the Miners on a pair of dunks and a made free throw. That made free throw gave UTEP a 12 point lead at 25-13 with just under nine minutes to play in the first half.
The onslaught from Washburn, Willms, and the rest of the Miners would continue, and they would own a 39-21 halftime lead, behind 15 from Wash on 6-7 shooting from the field.
The Miners would own their largest lead of the night on the opening possession of the second half, as a Cedrick Lang layup pushed the advantage up to 20. From there though, Florida International would begin their push to get back into the game.
FIU would use a quick 9-2 run over the next 2:27 to cut the UTEP lead to just 13 with still 17:22 to play. The Miners would push it back to 17 at 47-30 one minute later, but the Panthers were far from done.
The Panthers would score the next nine points of the ball game, brining the Miners' lead to single digits at eight with still 12:46 to play. The game of runs would continue, as the Miners would use their own 8-2 spurt to push the lead back to 14 with about nine to play.
Florida International would eventually get the game back to as few as seven, but the Miners would blow things open in the final minutes, leading by as many as 17 with under one minute to play, and eventually walking away with the 84-71 win.
Vince Hunter led the way for the Miners, scoring 21 points to go along with 7 rebounds, and 3 assists. Julian Washburn finished the night with 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. C.J. Cooper had 17 and 6 assists, and Cedrick Lang went for 12 points and 8 rebounds.
The only Miner starter to not score in double figures was Matt Willms, who finished the game with 9 points to go along with 4 rebounds. Senior John Bohannon suited up, but did not play in the game due to reasons related to academic performance.
FIU also had four players score in double figures, starting with Rakeem Buckles who finished with 19 points and 6 rebounds, but also had 7 turnovers. Tymell Murphy and Dennis Mavin each finished with 13 apiece, and Jerome Frink had 11 points and 8 boards.
The Miners, who shot a scorching hot 66.7% from both the field and three point range in the first half, finished the game shooting a nice 57.1% from the field and 58.3% from distance. FIU shot a decent 42.6% from the field, but an ice cold 19% from range.
UTEP wound up with a 35-29 advantage on the boards, but didn't do a good job taking care of the basketball, committing 17 turnovers to just 13 for FIU. The Miners did however have 21 assists on 28 made buckets.
Coach Tim Floyd had this to say following the game:
"We played inspired defensively in the first half...We really did a terrific job in all areas. Maybe our best half of the year defensively and offensively in terms of ball movement, playing through the post and shot selection...Things always look better when you make goals...We made shots and a lot of them were late clock."
It was nice to see the Miners break out of their "slump", as far as slow starts at home go, as they were able to run away from the Panthers early. However, you'd like to see them put the opponent away, as a few made buckets could have easily put them in a similar position to what FAU was in on Thursday.
Overall, it was a great win for the Miners, and while there are things to correct, especially taking care of the basketball, there was plenty to be satisfied about. They shot the basketball with great efficiency from everywhere, and the 21 assists on 28 buckets is extremely impressive.
Perhaps, Thursday night's loss was exactly what the Miners needed, as many people have said since then. Sometimes, winning can cause a team to get complacent, and the only way to snap them out of it is to lose. It might have come at the right time too, as the C-USA tournament is just around the corner.
Up next, the Miners will hit the road for a pair of road games that likely won't be easy. Considering what happened in the conference this week, its hard to expect anything from anyone.
The Miners will play in New Orleans against Tulane on Thursday, a team that beat UAB in Birmingham tonight. That same UAB team knocked off then league leading Southern Miss, who the Miners play Saturday, on Thursday by a final of 84-60.
Again, at this point there's no telling what can happen in conference play. If the Miners expect to pick up even one win on this trip, they'll certainly have to bring their A-game. Tipoff for Thursday's contest is slated for 6:00 p.m. MT, while Saturday's is scheduled for 4:00 p.m MT.
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