Hooper Vint had a huge 18 point performance, and Terry Winn added 15 as they led the Miners past Southern Illinois 71-66 to advance to the championship game of the Corpus Christi Classic.
For a pair of teams averaging 80+ points on the young season, this one started out as quite the defensive battle. Both teams were cold from the field, with neither being able to gain larger than a 4 point advantage for more than the first 11 minutes.
It would be Southern Illinois who would get that early 4 point lead, after Leo Vincent knocked in a deep three with 8:45 left in the first half. Following a Vint made layup about a minute later, the Salukis' Sean O'Brien would put in an and-1 to get their lead up to 5 at 21-16. That would be their largest lead of the afternoon.
The Miners would outscore Southern Illinois 18-9 over the final 7:20 of the half, led by 6 big points from Terry Winn, turning a 5 point deficit into a 34-30 lead as the teams headed for the locker rooms.
The Salukis would come out strong to start the second half, taking the lead back at 39-38 on another O'Brien and-1 just over four minutes in, and once again it would be back and forth from there.
A Lee Moore tip in around the 12 minute mark would break a 45 all tie, and spark an 11-2 Miner run that would seemingly blow this one open. That wouldn't be the case though as Southern Illinois wouldn't go quietly
Down 60-52, senior Anthony Beane, who had been contained for most of the afternoon, came open off a screen to knock down a big three that would spark a 12-2 Saluki spurt. That run would take them from down 8, all the way to up 2 with 3 minutes to play.
The Miners would be game though. Four straight by Winn would knot that game at 66, and the Miners' defense would hold from there. A pair of free throws by Vint with 18 seconds left would extend the Miners' lead out to 5, giving them a 71-66 lead and win.
Hooper Vint led the Miners with 18 points and 9 rebounds on 7-14 shooting from the field. Terry Winn upped his career high to 15, and notched a double-double with 10 rebounds. Lee Moore and Earvin Morris each finished with 12 points, and Dominic Artis, who found himself in foul trouble much of the game finished with 9 points and no assists.
Sean O'Brien led the Salukis, and all scorers, with 25 points to go along with 11 rebounds. Mike Rodriguez finished with 10 points, and Michael Beane Chipped in with 9.
UTEP shot 43.1% from the field, while holding Southern Illinois to 40.6%. Neither team shot well from range, as the Miners knocked in 3-12 and the Salukis dropped 5-22. The Miners finished 24-38 from the free throw line, while Southern Illinois netted all 9 of their attempts.
The Miners were able to win the rebounding battle 37-33, including 8-7 on the offensive end. Both teams committed 13 turnovers, and neither gained much of an advantage on the points of those turnovers.
The win improves the Miners to 5-0 on the season, the first time they've started with that mark since 2010. They will advance to face the winner of the Colorado State/Portland contest tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. MT. That game will also be carried by the American Sports Network.
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