The Miners walked in the Convocation Center Thursday night, looking to make their way into the top four of the final Conference USA standings. That wasn't meant to be, but they held form behind 20 points from C.J Cooper and earned their 7th league road win of the season with a 61-51 win over UTSA.
UTEP jumped out to an early 7-0 lead just two minutes in, with the early spurt led by Matt Willms, and while the Roadrunners would answer with four of their own, the Miners would use stifling defense to build what would prove to be an insurmountable lead.
UTSA still had just four points nearly eight minutes into the ball game, and the Miners would hold them in single digits until the 5:54 mark, when a Phillip Jones put back brought the Runners to within 7 at 18-11.
The Miners would eventually build their lead to as many as 14 at 28-14 with just over a minute left in the half, and would own a 28-16 advantage heading into the locker rooms.
A pair of Lang made buckets in the opening moments of the second half would put the Miners ahead by 15, and although the pesky Roadrunners wouldn't go away, the Miners would hardly be in any real danger the rest of the way.
Three straight points by Lang near the midway point would give the Miners their largest lead of the night at 47-30, but still UTSA wouldn't go quietly. A 13-0 run over a 2:43 span would cut the UTEP lead to four at 47-43, but the Miners would respond quickly to put the game on ice.
UTEP would outscore the Runners 14-8 the rest of the way, pushing their lead back to double digits with 1:40 remaining, and would walk away with the 61-51 victory.
C.J. Cooper led the Miners with 20 points and 5 assists, and Cedrick Lang chipped in with 12 points and 5 rebounds. No other Miner scored in double figures, but Matt Willms, John Bohannon, and Julian Washburn all finished with 8 points each, and combined for 19 rebounds.
The Miners didn't have a great shooting night, but still managed to shoot a decent 44.2% from the field, while holding UTSA to just 31.8%. UTSA won the rebounding battle 42-39, and also had 10 turnovers to the Miners' 11.
Coach Floyd had this to say following the win:
"We got some really great guard play from C.J. Cooper tonight, I thought he got us into play consistently with five assists and two turnovers...Our road record this year is a real credit to our guys, how hard we played on the road, how consistently we played on the road and the defensive field goal percentage that we gave up on the road. It was another great night for us on the defensive end, giving up 31.8 percent and 26.1 percent from the three-point line. Those were key stats, and we didn't put them at the line"
It was another great road win for the Miners tonight, as they continue to play as well as anyone could expect them to away from the Don Haskins Center.
The only thing that would have made this win a bit sweeter, would've been for UAB to knock off Middle Tennessee, allowing the Miners to slide in the top 4 of the league. Unfortunately, the Blazers gave up a 6 point lead with under two to play, leaving UTEP as the number 5 team in the league.
That fifth spot earns the Miners a date on Wednesday night in the second round of the C-USA tournament against the winner of the UTSA/ECU matchup on Tuesday. The tournament, of course, starts Tuesday and will run through Saturday here in El Paso.
The Miners will face perhaps the toughest of roads to the conference finals, having to face Southern Miss Thursday (should they win Wednesday), and then potentially Louisiana Tech Friday in the semifinals, if they are to make it that far.
No matter what happens in the Conference USA tournament, and beyond, this season has to be considered a huge success, and it has been an extremely exciting one to follow.
While the double bye would have been nice, the Miners have the luxury of playing every game remaining on their home court, and that's something only a handful of teams across the country can say. If they are able to play the way we know they can, they should have an excellent chance of winning it all.
Wednesday's matchup is slated for 6:00 p.m. MT, and will take place in the first slot of the night session.
Make sure to stay tuned to MinerRush for in depth coverage of the Conference USA tournament, as well as all things UTEP sports. Also, make sure to Follow @sbnminerrush on Twitter and as always don't forget to like our Facebook Page. Picks Up, and Go Miners!