The Conference USA opener started in familiar fashion for the Miners as they came out ice cold from the field falling behind 19-9 midway through the first half. The Tulsa Golden Hurricane came out with guns blazing shooting 85% for the first ten minutes, before cooling off to 47.7% for the first half including 6-9 from 3 point land. The Miners got the ball rolling, but after a poor 29.2% shooting effort they still trailed by 1 going into the half.
The intensity was turned up about 10 notches in the second half as the defense was completely suffocating. The Miners forced 21 turnovers, and had 12 steals of their own in a solid defensive performance. UTEP continued to apply pressure throughout the final 20, slowly gaining the lead and then extending it into double digits. With under 5:00 to go the Miners had opened up a 65-51 lead, that would not be given up. The Golden Hurricane were able to cut the lead to 65-57, but a missed three sealed their fate as the Miners hit some free throws to escape with the 69-59 victory.
Star G Randy Culpepper had his second impressive outing since breaking out of his slump going for 29 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 steals. Christian Polk was the only other Miner in double figures with 12 points on only 4-7 shooting. Culpepper and Polk had some clutch shots that helped the Miners on Wednesday, but the real kicker was the free throw shooting.
In what was their best free throw shooting effort of the year, the Miners finished 27-35 from the line for about a 78% average. Free throws were definitely the difference in the game as the Miners shot only 38% from the field. Those free shots will continue to be of high importance the later we get into the season, and its nice to see the team finally coming around a little in that aspect. The Golden Hurricane, who dropped to 7-7 (0-1) with the loss, were led by senior G Justin Hurtt who had 21 points, and sophomore G-F Bryson Pope who finished with 10.
Next up for the Miners (13-3) is a Saturday night date with the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers. UAB was at Cameron Indoor on Wednesday taking on the no. 1 team in the nation the Duke Blue Devils. The Blazers were a little star struck coming out of the locker room quickly falling behind 26-4, before playing the rest of the game +1. Mike Davis' team is very talented and will present a very formidable task. UAB is now 11-3, with its only losses coming on the road at Arizona State, at Georgia, and now at Duke. Saturday's tip is set for 2:00 p.m. mt. The game will be carried on CBS College Sports, and as always can be heard live, called by the voice of the Miners John Teicher on 92.3 the Fox.