It was another slow start for the Miners, but this one wouldn't go quite like yesterday's match against Iowa did. Despite that though, missed free throws and missed opportunities doomed the Miners, and the #2 ranked Kansas Jayhawks escaped with the 67-63 victory.
After a slow start for both teams, that saw only two total points scored in the first 5:40 of the game, the Jayhawks pulled ahead for an early 7-0 lead. The Miners just couldn't find the basket early, as it took them 7:24 to get on the scoreboard.
Kansas continued to open up their lead, going ahead by as many as 13 at 15-2 in the early going, but the Miners just wouldn't go away. A quick 7-2 run would bring UTEP back to within 8 at 17-9 with just under nine minutes to go in the first half.
The slow pace continued, and the Miners kept fighting, never allowing the Jayhawks' lead to get back above 11 the rest of the half. The Orange and Blue would close to within six with 2:54 left in the first twenty minutes, and would trail just 29-20 at the half.
The second half went much like the first, at least for the first 15 minutes. Kansas jumped ahead by as many 15 in the opening minutes, but the Miners would answer back to get the lead back down to single digits with 12:00 to play.
The Miners trailed by just seven at 50-43 with under six minutes to play, but a quick 9-2 run pushed the Jayhawk's lead back to 14.
UTEP wouldn't continue to scrap though, and would eventually cut the lead down to as few as three with six seconds to play, but a free throw by Kansas' Perry Ellis pushed the lead to two possessions at 67-63, and a missed three at the buzzer made it final.
Kansas was led by Perry Ellis, who finished with 19 points and 7 rebounds. Wayne Selden Jr. had 14 points and 6 rebounds, and Naadir Tharpe chipped in with 11 points and 4 assists. Star freshman Andrew Wiggins was held to just 6 points on 2-9 shooting.
The Miners were led by McKenzie Moore who finished with 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists. Justin Crosgile had 14 points and 4 steals, and Vince Hunter finished with 10 points and 5 rebounds. Julian Washburn finished with 8 points and Matt Willms had 9.
As a team, the Jayhaws shot 39.3% from the field, 26.3% from three point range, and 69.2% from the line. The Miners shot 40.7% from the field and 38.5% from three point range, but shot just 58.3% from the free throw line.
Kansas won the rebounding battle 40-35, including 15-12 on the offensive end. The Miners forced 15 turnovers, but also committed 13 of their own.
There's no need to say it, but the difference in this game was clearly free throws. The Miners missed 10 on the night, and missed two in the final minute, one of which was the front end of a one and one.
For the season, the Miners have missed an average of about 9 free throws a game. Granted, you can't expect a team to make every free throw they shoot, but missing 9 or 10 a night is completely unacceptable. Especially when facing a team like Kansas.
Besides free throws though, the Miners need to figure out how to come out of the gates a little faster. In the first ten minutes of the first half, the Miners scored just 5 points. In the first ten of the second half, a little better, but just 14.
That's an entire half of basketball scoring just 19 points. Meaning that in the other half of the game, the Miners scored 44. That has to change. We can't expect to dig ourselves into a double digit hole, and be able to get out of it.
Overall though, it was a great showing by the Miners. They did start slow, they did miss free throws, but they hung tough and were able to take one of the nation's best teams down to the wire.
The loss drops the Miners to 4-4 on the season, but all of those defeats have come against stiff opposition. The Jayhawks, who will almost certainly fall from their #2 ranking, improve to 6-1 on the year.
For the Miners, its now time to head back to El Paso, get a little rest, and prepare for the rest of the non-conference slate. Up next, Sacramento State visits the Don next Saturday at 7:05 p.m. MT.
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