It was a rough start for the Miners, one they couldn't get out of for the first twenty minutes. FAU jumped out to a quick 7-4 lead three minutes in, and continued to pour it on the rest of the first half.
By the 12 minute mark, the Owls were shooting a blazing hot 61% from the field, and were on a 10-0 run that opened their lead to 13 at 19-6.
Cold shooting would continue to bury the Miners, and Florida Atlantic would eventually lead by as many as 15 at 38-23 with just under two minutes remaining, and would take a 38-25 lead into the break.
Little would change in the early going of the final 20 minutes, as the Owls would open on a 7-0 run to quickly push their lead to 20 just two minutes in.
The Miners would fight to get the lead back to 12 with 11:30 to play, but a couple of dagger buckets by FAU put them back up 16 just one minute later. Things were just starting to get interesting though.
UTEP would continue to chip away at the Owl lead, and finally broke it to single digits at 65-56 on a Julian Washburn jumper with 3:56 to play. Intense pressure defense from the Miners produced back to back 10 second violations, and a couple more made baskets eventually brought the deficit to five at 65-60 with still over two to play.
An FAU free throw on the ensuing possession put the lead back to six, but a huge C.J. Cooper three cut that in half with 1:15 on the clock. A made layup by the Owl's D'Andre Johnson extended the lead to five with 39 ticks left, but another big three, this time by Washburn, left the Miners down just two with 33 second to go.
The Miners were able to force a turnover, and following a timeout, C.J. Cooper knocked down a contested three to give UTEP the go ahead score with 12 second remaining, but an FAU desperation three banked in with two seconds left, and the Owls escaped 71-69.
Vince Hunter led the way for the Miners, scoring 18 point to go along with 4 rebounds. John Bohannon finished with 16 points and 9 rebounds, Julian Washburn also had 16 points of his own, and C.J. Cooper finished with 15, 5 assists, and no turnovers.
FAU's Marquan Botley finished with a game high 23 points, including the game winning shot, and Pablo Bertone chipped in with 18. No other Owl scored in double figures.
The Owls, who dominated the boards in the fist half, won the rebounding battle 29-27, and also shot 52% to the Miners' 47.1%. The biggest difference in the game, perhaps, was FAU's 10-20 shooting from distance, to the Miners 4-7 (three came in the closing moments).
Coach Floyd had this to say following the game:
"I want to credit Mike Jarvis and his staff with the job they did. They're very disciplined offensively. They used great shot selection for the entire game, made us guard for long periods of time, much like Rice. I thought they were very effective the last seven seconds of shot clock situations, and they made us pay...Our formula for winning was no different tonight. The other team shoots more threes, we shoot more free throws. Tonight they made their threes. They were ten for twenty. We didn't defend the three point line as well as we have. I don't discredit what happened on the last possession. We switched it, he had to shoot it over a 6'11 guy, and he banked it in. Credit to the kid."
Indeed, its hard to take any credit away from FAU. The Miners started out extremely slow, much like they have the last couple of games at home, and the Owls were able to execute, and just make more shots than the Miners. Tonight, the team that played better won the game.
Still though, it is an extremely tough loss to take. While the Miners played poorly for about 30 minutes, they were able to erase a 20 point deficit, take the lead with 12 seconds to go, and unfortunately had to watch a desperation three bank in to hand them the loss.
When asked about the final play, FAU coach Mike Jarvis had this to say:
"Well first of all understand this, we coaches can call anything we want, the kids have to make the plays...What we wanted to do was get the ball in Marquan's hands, push it up the floor, get a couple shooters ahead of him, and have our big guys set a middle screen. The play was really designed for him to penetrate and pass to either Pablo or Jackson Trapp for a shot, but he said you know what I feel it, he took it, I think he might of got hit, that might have helped it go in too."
Whatever made the shot go in, it went in. Again, it is a tough one to take, but its one the Miners have to take, overcome, and move forward into the remainder of the season.
The loss drops the Miners to 18-7, and 8-2 in Conference USA play, but more than anything likely puts the nail into the coffin of any at large hopes. On the bright side, fellow league leader Southern Miss also lost, losing 84-60 at UAB.
So, after all is said and done on this Thursday night, the Miners still maintain a share of the lead in Conference USA. Now though, there are four teams tied for that lead, as UTEP, Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech, and Middle Tennessee all sit at 8-2 in league play.
The Miners will now prepare for a Saturday matchup with Florida International, before hitting the road to take on Tulane and Southern Miss. A home contest against Tulsa will follow that, and a final road swing featuring North Texas and UTSA will end the regular season. Saturday's contest against FIU is slated for 7:05 p.m. MT.
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