Vince Hunter scored 22, and the Miners outrebounded just their second league foe in eight opportunities as they outlasted the UAB Blazers 71-69 Thursday night in the Don Haskins Center.
The Blazers were firing out of the gates, quickly jumping ahead 6-0 while holding UTEP scoreless for nearly the first four minutes of the game. The Miners had opportunities to get on the board early but the free throw woes continued as they missed their first four attempts less than three minutes in.
Five straight by UAB's Hakeem Baxter would put their lead at seven with 14:52 left in the half, but a quick spurt sparked by Vince Hunter got the Miners back to within two at 15-13 just passed the midway point.
The Blazers would heat up again, using a 6-0 run to extend their lead to eight at 21-13, and just as the Miners responded, C.J. Washington would score eight straight for UAB to give them their biggest lead of the half at 27-18.
Hunter would knock down seven free throws over the final 3:30 of the first half, and that coupled with a big three from C.J. Cooper got the Miners back to within three at 33-30 heading to the break.
UTEP would score four straight out of the half to take their first lead of the game at 34-33, but things wouldn't stay that way for long. A 10-0 run over the next four and a half minutes put the Blazers back out in front by nine once again.
UAB would keep UTEP at bay until about the seven minute mark, but that's when the Miners would take over. Down 55-49, they would use a 13-0 run to go up 62-55, and they'd eventually extend that lead out to the 66-57 with just 47 seconds left, but the Blazers weren't don yet.
With three fouls to give, Tim Floyd and the Miners elected not to use them, or just weren't able to commit them, and watched UAB hit four consecutive three pointers to pull to within 70-69 with :06 left on the clock.
Earvin Morris would split a pair at the line, giving the Blazers a shot at the win, but a William Lee three missed at the buzzer, and the Miners escaped with the 71-69 win.
Vince Hunter led all scorers with 22 points, including 12-16 from the free throw line. He also hauled in 9 rebounds. Earvin Morris finished the night with 14 points, C.J. Cooper had 11, and Julian Washburn chipped in with 9.
Robert Brown led the Blazers with 16 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists. Hakeem Baxter finished with 11 points, and Denzel Watts went for 10 points, 4 assists, and 3 steals.
The Miners held a slight advantage shooting the ball, finishing 23-49 for 46.9%, while the Blazers finished 30-65 for 46.2%. The Miners missed another 12 free throws on the night, but shot a better percentage than the last few games finishing 21-33. UAB finished just 4-5 at the line.
UTEP also held an advantage on the glass, outrebounding their opponent for just the second time in league play, finishing with a 37-32 advantage, while giving up 0 offensive rebounds in the second half after allowing 11 in the first.
The win improves the Miners to 13-7 on the season, and 5-3 in league play, while UAB drops to 10-11 overall and 6-2 in conference.
Overall, it wasn't the best performance, but it was a gutty one, and a much needed one for this season to get back on track. This team could've quit down nine with seven to play, but they showed some resilience and pulled it out.
What's most troubling from this game, is the fact that Matt Willms could be lost for an extended period of time. While there was no immediate diagnosis, certain people around the program weren't very optimistic about the situation.
Willms seemed hobbled late in the first and didn't play for the remainder of the night. This would be a huge loss to a team that has already had a very thin rotation. Considering that, coach Floyd discussed the possibility of pulling redshirts in the upcoming games.
Its still yet to be seen exactly what the diagnosis will be, but the Miners will have to start finding offensive production from elsewhere should he be out for any significant time.
Up next, the Miners will take on Middle Tennessee Saturday in the Don. Tipoff for that game is slated for 7:00 p.m. MT as the Miners will have an opportunity to string a pair of wins together before hitting the road for the Florida swing.
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