A sub 100 percent Vince Hunter scored 13 points and hauled in 13 rebounds, and four other Miners scored in double figures, but it wasn't enough to overcome a game Western Kentucky squad Thursday night in Bowling Green.
The Miners came out swinging early, turning a 7-7 tie into a 17-9 lead just 7:27 into the ball game. Things would cool down for a while though, and the Hilltoppers would quickly find their groove.
By the 7:59 mark, UTEP's lead was gone, as a George Fant made layup tied the game at 21. WKU would take the lead following a stop on the ensuing Miner possession, and would pull ahead by as many as three following a pair of Trency Jackson made free throws.
A 13-0 UTEP run would be sparked though, and the Miners would find themselves back in front and up double digits at 35-25 with :25 left in the half. A key play would end the first twenty minutes, with Omega Harris fouling Jackson on a three with less than a second left. He would hit all three free throws, cutting the lead to seven at the break.
Fant and the Hilltoppers would strike first in the second half, but the Miners would fire back with five straight capped by a Hunter and-1 to quickly stretch their lead back out to 10 at 40-30. Unfortunately for UTEP though, they'd go ice cold from there.
Three missed field goals and two turnovers later, the game was tied at 41. Western Kentucky would take the lead on their next possession, and the two teams would claw their way to the finish.
Neither team would lead by more than two for the final 14:18 of the second half, and once again, a key play in the final moments would send a three point shooter to the line.
This time, Earvin Morris was fouled while shooting a three, and with his team down two had an opportunity to give them the win. Morris would miss the first, but make the final two to tie the game at 59, sending it to an extra five minutes of action.
The Hilltoppers would strike first in the overtime period, taking a 61-59 lead on a Ben Lawson made layup. Cedrick Lang would tie the game on the next possession, but the Toppers' Chris Harrison-Docks would come alive to give his team a boost.
Harrison-Docks would score five straight for the Toppers, and the Miners wouldn't be able to find enough offense to overcome that. In the end, Western Kentucky escaped with the 71-66 win.
Cedrick Lang led the way for the Miners, and was tied for game high honors with 14 points. He also had 7 rebounds. Vince Hunter finished with his 11th double-double of the season, as he had 13 points and 13 rebounds. Matt Willms also chipped in with 13 points, Julian Washburn had 12, and Earvin Morris finished with 10.
Trency Jackson led the Hilltoppers with 14 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. George Fant also had a double-double going for 13 and 11, and T.J. Price and Chris Harrison-Docks each finished with 12.
The Miners were crushed on the boards, losing that battle 47-35, including 13-7 on the offensive end. They did finish the game shooting a bit better from the field, but finished 0-17 from three point range, and perhaps more disturbing 12-24 from the free throw line.
The cold shooting from the outside is troubling, but for now, I'd just write that off as one of those nights where the shots don't fall. Now the free throw shooting is a completely different story, and is absolutely unacceptable.
Not only did they shoot just 12-24 from the line, they also missed a few front end of 1-1's, which no matter how you slice, is like missing two at a time. Tough thing is, all they needed was one more in regulation, and they would've escaped with a win.
Truth be told, the Miners gave this one away. The intensity seemed to be there, but they killed themselves at the line, and didn't seem to have anyone who wanted to score the basketball in the closing minutes.
Perhaps what is most frustrating about it all though, is the fact that the Miners let another big game slip through their fingers. It'd be one thing if this was just a bad game, but this is starting to become a trend and that is disturbing.
The loss drops the Miners to 12-6 overall, and 4-2 in league play. Western Kentucky improves 13-5 and 6-0, and is now the lone remaining undefeated team in C-USA after Thursday night's action.
Up next, the Miners will take on the 4-15 Marshall Thundering Herd Saturday in Huntington. That game is slated to tip at 1:00 p.m. MT, and will be carried live by the American Sports Network.
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