For the second year in a row the UTEP Miners (11-3) have met the Air Force Falcons in the finals of the Sun Bowl Invitational, and for the second year in a row the Miners sent the Falcons away with a double digit defeat. This game was close for about the first 10 minutes when the Miners went on a 13-3 run, extending a 22-16 lead to 35-19. The Miners shot a solid 57.7% from the field in the first half and that translated into a 43-31 halftime lead.
The Miners continued their run into the second stanza, opening it up with a 10-2 run that extended their lead out to 18 points. The Falcons could never get this one back within single digits, and the Miners raced away for a 71-54 victory. The Miners second half field goal percentage dipped to 44.9%, but they clamped down on defense forcing the Falcons to 8-30 from the field for a frigid 26.7%.
Christian Polk led the Miners with a nice 18 point performance, and was named the MVP of the tournament. Randy Culpepper, who had been in a slump as of late, shot 6-14 from the field for 15 points, but still struggled from deep shooting only 2-8. Jeremy Williams contributed with 14 points, and Gabriel McCulley had another solid outing, finishing with 9 points and 8 boards.
Air Force, who fell to 8-4 on the season, only had two players in double figures. Forward Tom Fow had 13 points and 2 rebounds, and forward Zach Bohannon had 10 points and 4 boards. The Falcons were held to 35.8% shooting for the game, and 33.3% from beyond the arc.
The Miners seemed to finally break out of the funk that had overtaken them over the last three games. They came out and played their game, the game coach Floyd wants them play, and they walked out with a 17 point win. The defense was suffocating in the 2nd half, and the ball was getting moved around well in the 1st. Play like that more consistently, and we've got a shot at doing some damage.
The Miners take a quick break for the New Year, before returning to the Don Haskins Center to play against another Sun Bowl Invitational team in the Sam Houston State Bearkats on Sunday January 2nd. The Bearkats were dropped 76-65 by Air Force in the opening round of the tournament before going on to defeat Western New Mexico 64-48 in the consolation game. Sunday's game will tip early at 2:00 p.m. mt, and tickets are still available at the UTEP ticket office.