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UTEP Powers Past North Texas 85-71 in Conference USA Opener

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The Miners started slow, but quickly found their offensive form to race past the North Texas Mean Friday night in Denton, TX.

Gary A.Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Earvin Morris finished with a career high 22 points off the bench, and Vince Hunter narrowly missed his ninth double-double of the year finishing with 21 points and 9 rebounds as the Miners opened league play with an 85-71 victory over North Texas.

It was another slow start for the Miners, as they managed just six points in the first five plus minutes of the ball game, quickly falling behind 13-6. North Texas' DeAndre Harris was instrumental in the early run, scoring 12 of those 13 points on his own.

Vince Hunter and Earvin Morris would spark a UTEP run, getting the Miners back within striking distance, but the Mean Green would continue to stay hot. North Texas held their lead until a pair of Morris free throws would knot the game at 20 with 8:45 left, and would still be ahead 33-32 as the first half wound down.

The Miners would heat up from there though, scoring the final 11 points of the half, including back to back threes by Morris and C.J. Cooper that would give them a 44-33 advantage heading into the locker rooms.

UTEP would continue to press the issue out of the break, using a quick 5-1 spurt to stretch their lead to 15, and they wouldn't look back from there. The Miners would continue to dominate, and would eventually own a lead as large as 22 at 68-46 following a Morris made three with 9:53 to play.

It was a coast to the finish from there, and following a somewhat messy final couple of minutes, the Miners would walk away with an 85-71 victory on opening night in Conference USA play.

Earvin Morris led the way, scoring a career high 22 points on 6-10 shooting. He also picked up 6 steals, and had a pair of assists on the night. Vince Hunter finished with 21 points and 9 rebounds, Omega Harris had 12 points, and Cedrick Lang and C.J. Cooper finished with 9 points apiece.

North Texas was led by DeAndre Harris who finished with 20 points and 4 rebounds, but saw his night cut short after a Flagrant 2 foul in the closing minutes of the game. Jordan Williams had 14 points and 5 rebounds, and Colin Voss finished with 11 points and 7 boards.

The Mean Green actually outshot the Miners, 53.2% to 50.9%, but the Miners knocked in two more three pointers than UNT, and finished 22-34 from the line, compare to 14-22 for the Mean Green. North Texas also outrebounded UTEP 29-28, but committed 18 turnovers to just 10 for the Miners.

The win improves the Miners to 9-4 overall, and more importantly 1-0 in league play, while North Texas drops to 6-7 and 0-1. UTEP is now 3-2 in league openers since Tim Floyd took over the program in the 2010-11 season.

Overall a great performance by the Miners. This was a game that they should have won, but it would have been easy to get complacent and let this one slip away. North Texas does have a home win over Creighton after all.

But, they overcame a slow start, and put together what was arguably their best offensive performance of the year. Earvin Morris played lights out, and if he can continue to play that way this team will be the C-USA champs.

Vince Hunter continues to prove that he is the best player in this league, and finished with a very efficient 21 points on 9-10 shooting. Of course though, still plenty of room to improve at that free throw line as he missed five of his eight attempts.

Again, great effort and great win for the Miners to open up league play. A lot of stars are blossoming on this team, and it is happening at just the right time.

Up next, the Miners will take on the Rice Owls Sunday at 1:30 p.m. MT time. That game will be played in Houston, and will be carried live by the American Sports Network.

Make sure to stay tuned to MinerRush for coverage of all things UTEP sports. Also, make sure to on Twitter and as always don't forget to like our Facebook Page. Picks Up, and Go Miners!