If there is any indication of how bad the deep struggle the UTEP Miners basketball team is going through, Monday night's first possession of the game summed things up pretty quickly.
Norfolk State opened up in a full court press and UTEP was called for a 10 second violation on their first possession, then BOOM.....two minutes later UTEP trailed 9-1.
UTEP led for only 26 seconds in the game, were out rebounded 43-26, while the Spartans got to the free throw line 30 times. converting 26 times and controlled the lead for 39 minutes.
Charles Oliver scored a game high 22 points, canning four three pointers, while Jeff Short added 18, and Preston Bungei was 7-for-7 from the free throw line adding in 10 points. The Spartans scored on 50 percent of their possessions, shot 9-of-18 from behind the three point line, and were an efficient 46 percent from the field in the game.
UTEP would quickly gather themselves after trailing 9-1 with a 9-2 run after a bucket from Terry Winn to close the gap to 11-10 Spartans at the 14:51 mark of the first half.
Devonte Banner and Charles Oliver each had an answer teaming up for back-to-back three pointers to quiet the Don to a pin drop, and push Norfolk State ahead 19-13 with 12:21 left in the first half.
Omega Harris again provided most of UTEP's offense in the opening stages of the game, scoring the 11 of UTEP's first 16 points, finishing with 16 first half points.
His fast break layup with 18 seconds left until halftime brought the Miners within three to cap off a 6-1 UTEP spurt, but Oliver would get one to go down inside the paint before the buzzer to give Norfolk State a 40-35 lead at halftime.
The Spartans shot 50 percent from the field in the first half, with Oliver pouring in 15 first half points on 5-of-7 shooting.
In the second half it was more of the same Norfolk efficient offense, and Miners continued struggles to close in on a deficit.
UTEP would get within one twice in the first three minutes of the second half, then Dominic Artis drilled a three pointer at the 15:04 mark to cut the lead to 46-44 Norfolk State.
The Spartans would score on their next five possessions after the Artis three, but Tevin Caldwell would hit a pair of free throws to bring UTEP back within striking distance again, this time trailing 53-50 with 12:51 left to play.
Then Norfolk State put their foot on the gas, and the Miners hung their head for a fifth straight time in the closing minutes.
A 16-5 Norfolk run capped off by a 17-foot jumper, plus the foul and free throw from Bungei seemed to be the dagger that put UTEP away with the Norfolk State bench celebrating a 66-55 lead with 7:40 left until the finish line.
Lee Moore would give UTEP one last gasp three minutes later, with an and-1 layup, plus the free throw to cut the deficit to 69-63 with 5:51 left in the game. UTEP had a little swagger after the big play, but this was Norfolk State's night.
UTEP would go on a 2:38 scoring drought from there, and Norfolk State hit their last 10 free throws in a row in the final 1:22 to send 7,746 Miner fans home with a sour taste.
Dominic Artis led UTEP with 18 points as he took over for a segment in the second half. Harris would go 0-of-5 from the field in the second half, and finish with 16 points. Earvin Morris added 12 points, and Lee Moore reached double figures with 10 points.
UTEP forced 19 turnovers, and cashed in on 27 points off turnovers, but allowed 15 offensive rebounds, and 17 second chance points led by Jordan Butler who had a game high 10 rebounds for Norfolk State.
So what now for UTEP?
UTEP is having trouble guarding the dribble drive, closing out on three pointer shooters via rotation, and the offensive chemistry that was built in the first six games is lost some where in between Corpus and El Paso.
Tim Floyd offered up no excuses after the game other than he still will continue to work with his young group, who appears to have their confidence fully fractured in mid-December.
Norfolk State head coach Robert Jones said this was Norfolk State's second biggest win in school history describing this game as a guarantee game, a feat that is now becoming just a little bit too trendy in the Tim Floyd era.
UTEP will take on Sam Houston State tomorrow in the consolation game at 5:00 p.m.