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UTEP Uses Big Second Half to Dump NMSU 77-76

The Miners didn't have a great start to the game, and found themselves down double digits in the early going, but fought back to take the first edition of the 2014-15 Battle of I-10.

Vince Hunter had another stellar performance, finishing with 23 points and 10 rebounds, leading the Miners back from as many as 15 down to claim a 77-76 win over a game New Mexico State squad.

It was slow going early on, as the Miners started an odd lineup in Terry Winn, Matt Willms, Omega Harris, Lew Stallworth, and Earvin Morris, leaving veterans like Julian Washburn, C.J. Cooper, Vince Hunter, and Cedrick Lang to come in off the bench.

Coach Floyd said this about the decision to go with that starting five:

"I thought if we got those guys some minutes early, that it would help us late. I knew that they were going to come out at us really hard, and I knew that they'd be better the second time in, and I think they were all better the second time in."

The slow start nearly cost the Miners though, as the Aggies jumped out to a 6-0 lead, and would grow that to as many as 15 at 40-25 following a three pointer by Braxton Huggins with 2:02 left in the first half.

UTEP wouldn't let them stretch it any further than that, and would allow just two points in the closing minutes, ending the half down 12 at 42-30.

The second half started much different than the first for the Miners, as the Orange and Blue would open up on a 13-6 run, closing the gap to five at 48-43 on a huge Omega Harris three with 14:56 to play.

New Mexico State's lead would continue to dwindle, but the Miners just never seemed to be able to get over the hump, seeing the Aggie lead stretch to five and six every time they would get it down to a single possession ball game.

That is, until senior C.J. Cooper stepped up to hit his only shot of the game, but perhaps the biggest one his team hit all night. Down 65-63 with just under five to play, no one stepped up to play the ball and C.J. took advantage, knocking in the go ahead bucket with 4:44 to play.

"I drove down the court and no one was there. Cedrick set a good screen for me, and they were backed off, so I just had to pull up and take the three. I knew I was going to make it. It feels good."

That bucket certainly turned out to be the turning point in the game, as it would spark a 12-2 run that would extend the Miner lead out to eight at 75-67 with just 2:30 left in the ball game.

This one was far from done though, and a pair of UTEP turnovers, and a big three by D.K. Elridge with 11 seconds on the clock closed the gap to one. Omega Harris missed a pair from the line, keeping the lead at one, and while Daniel Mullings would get a fairly clean shot off, it would bank off the rim, and the Miners would escape 77-76.

Vince Hunter again led the way for the Miners, but there were plenty of other key contributors. Ced Lang finished with 15 points and 7 boards on 6-9 shooting. Omega Harris finished with 13 points, and just 1 turnover handling the ball for a good portion of the night, and  Julian Washburn finished 11 points, and just completely shut down NMSU star Daniel Mullings.

C.J. Cooper, who had the huge three to give the Miners their first lead of the ball game, finished the night with just 4 points, but had 7 assists to just 1 turnover.

NMSU was led by D.K. Eldridge who finished with 17 points and 5 rebounds. Remi Barry had a big night with 16 points and 9 rebounds, and Braxton Huggins and Pascal Siakam finished with 10 points apiece.

Daniel Mullings ended his night with 6 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists, but found himself sitting on a goose egg until the 12:24 mark of the second half.

The win was absolutely huge for the Miners, who will now hit the road for the Wooden Legacy tournament in Anaheim this coming week.

There's still a lot to improve on though, as the Miners missed countless layups, 11 free throws, and allowed 42 points in the first half alone. That simply cannot happen if this team is going to be successful this weekend.

The Miners will open up the Wooden Legacy with a matchup against the Princeton Tigers on the campus of Cal State Fullerton. That game will take place Thanksgiving Day, and tipoff is slated for 12:00 p.m. MT.