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UTEP Survives Late Kent State Rally, Claims Sun Bowl Invitational Title

A game that probably shouldn't have been very close turned out to be a nail biter, but the Miners escaped with a 78-75 win to claim the 53rd Sun Bowl Invitational title.

Alex Nicolas

Five Miners scored in double figures, and Vince Hunter had another monster night with 18 points and 16 rebounds as the Miners survived the Kent State Golden Flashes in the championship game of the Sun Bowl Invitational.

The Miners started a bit sloppy, committing turnovers on their first two possessions, but they'd have little trouble scoring the basketball in the early going. Earvin Morris and Omega Harris combined for 11 points in the first seven minutes, as the Miners would claim an 18-13 lead with still about 13 minutes left in the first half.

Kent State would storm back to take a four point lead at 24-20 following back to back Derek Jackson made threes, but the Miners would continue to put the ball in the basket with ease. They would use a 12-0 run over a three minute span to take a 32-24 lead, and would eventually hold a 44-37 advantage heading into the break.

The Miners would open the second half on a 7-2 run, extending their lead out to 12 at 51-39, but they wouldn't be able to gain much more separation than that. A pair of tres from Devareaux Manley would pull the Flashes back to within six at 53-47 with 13:15 left to play, but the Miners would answer back with a run of their own.

By the 6:51 mark, UTEP had extended its lead out to 13, but things were just starting to get interesting. A 23-11 Kent State run over the next six plus minutes would close to gap to just one at 76-75 with :06 left to play, but they would be unable to break even. A pair of Harris made free throws got the lead back to three and a prayer at the buzzer missed, sealing the Miners' 78-75 victory.

Vince Hunter led the way with his 18 point, 16 rebound performance. Matt Willms and Cedrick Lang finished with 12 points apiece, Earvin Morris finished with 11, Julian Washburn had 10, and Omega Harris finished with 8.

Jimmy Hall led the way for Kent State, finishing with a game high 20 points to go along with 10 rebounds. Derek Jackson finished with 16 points and 3 assists, and Devareaux Manley chipped in with 13 points and 3 boards.

As a team the Miners shot 52.3%, while holding Kent State to just 39.7%. The Miners also outshot the Flashes from three, 5-11 (45.5%) to 9-28 (32.1%), and from the free throw line 27-40 (67.5%) to 12-21 (57.1%).

UTEP got outrebounded for the second night in a row, as the Flashes held a 37-33 advantage there, including 14-6 on the offensive end. The Miners also had more turnovers, committing 15 to Kent State's 7.

All tournament honors went to Cedrick Lang, Matt Willms, and of course, Vince Hunter. Lang was named to the all tournament team, Willms garnered the Don Haskins Award, and Hunter was named tournament MVP.

The win improves the Miners to 8-4 on the season, and now sets them up for conference play beginning January 2nd at North Texas. The team will play an exhibition December 30th against Sul Ross, but that will likely be more of an opportunity for certain players to get some competitive minutes.

One should be happy with a win over a pretty good Kent State team. But, the truth is this game should have never been in question. The Miners had plenty of opportunities to put the game away, but Floyd continually tinkered with the lineups, breaking momentum, and allowing the Flashes opportunities.

That shouldn't happen, and simply can't happen come conference time, or it will cost the Miners wins. The non-conference slate is over, and all the wrinkles should be ironed out. Time to make the run we've all been expecting this team to make.

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