It wasn't the prettiest of wins, but not many are when playing on the road against a conference opponent. Both teams played a poor first half, but great defensive energy in the second boosted the Miners to the 63-54 win.
The Miners came out with great pace to start the game, jumping out to an early 12-4 lead about six minutes in. Freshman Vince Hunter bolstered that early run, scoring six of those first twelve points.
But, Middle Tennessee quickly got things going, using a 7-0 run to bring the game back to a one point difference at 12-11 less than a minute and a half later.
The two teams would trade blows for the remainder of the first twenty minutes, with the Blue Raiders even holding as big as a five point lead late in the frame. At the break, they held on to a narrow 29-27 lead.
Much like in the first half, the Miners once again came out with great energy to start the final twenty minutes. They scored the first five points of the half, and quickly regained their lead at 32-29 a little less than three minutes in.
The Blue Raiders would score the next two buckets, giving them a 33-32 advantage, but that would be the last lead they would hold. The game would be tied once more at 37, but after that it was all Orange and Blue.
UTEP used a quick 7-0 run to go ahead 44-37, and kept that momentum going, eventually leading by as many as 16 at 63-47. Middle Tennessee would score a few late buckets to make the score a bit more respectable, but in the end the Miners were victorious, walking away with the 63-54 win.
Vince Hunter, once again, was huge for the Miners. He led them in scoring, finishing with 20 points to go along with 8 rebounds and 4 steals. The 20 points matches his career high, which he set in the Miners' previous contest against Marshall.
Julian Washburn had another solid performance, as he finished with 12 points and 5 assists. C.J. Cooper, who had been struggling of late, hit two crucial threes in the Miners second half run, and finished with 11 points and 5 rebounds, and John Bohannon was a force once again, putting up 8 points, 11 rebounds, and a monster 7 blocks.
Middle Tennessee was led by Neiko Hunter, who finished the contest with 13 points and 8 rebounds. He was however, the only Blue Raider to score in double figures. Shawn Jones and Tweety Knight finished with 9 and 8 points, respectively.
While neither team shot particularly well in the first half, the Miners used a solid second half to finish 46% from the field, while holding the Blue Raiders to just 32.2%. They also won the rebounding battle 40-35, and held a 12-2 advantage in blocks.
Coach Tim Floyd had this to say following the win:
"We had a real special defensive effort on the road...Our length was outstanding tonight. Vince Hunter was terrific at finishing. He finished everything every time he took the ball back to the basket...He just keeps getting better...I thought our guys played every little defense that we played very, very well tonight. They're playing well collectively. They're not playing with any agendas. We're continuing to defend, which is the only way we can win right now."
There's no doubt about it; this was a huge win for this team tonight. While the losses that this team has experienced since the offseason have definitely hurt, there's still plenty of talent to go around. The performance tonight shows that.
As coach Floyd said, they must be able to defend, and they must play as a single unit, without agendas. If that happens, there's no question that this team can still win a ton of games.
Freshman Aaron Jones, who along with his brother Alvin joined the team just last week, was expected to get some playing time in Thursday's contest. For whatever reason, that just didn't work into the gameplan. Still though, the simple fact that Floyd sees something this early on in the process shows that that there could be something there. Its certainly something to look forward to.
Things won't be getting any easier for this team though. UAB, who for the most part kept a pesky UTSA team at bay Thursday night, now awaits the Miners for their Saturday night showdown in Birmingham. Not only are they a good scoring team, they are a great rebounding team, ranking first nationally in rebounds per game. It will definitely be tough, but should be an interesting one.
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