CJ Cooper scored 15 points and five Miners scored in double figures as they knocked off the Charlotte 49ers Thursday night to stay just a game back of the lead in the Conference USA race.
Julian Washburn led an early charge for the Miners, scoring five points in the first 1:43 of the ballgame to lead UTEP to an early 7-0 lead. An Omega Harris three a couple minutes later would stretch that lead out to 13-4 before Charlotte would fire back with six straight to get back to within three.
The Miners would eventually lead by as many as 11 in the first half, on three separate occasions, before finally taking a 34-27 lead into the locker rooms.
Cooper would get things going for the Miners out of the break, knocking down a triple just 12 seconds in, but the 49ers would score the next six to quickly trim the lead down to just four.
But UTEP, as they did many times in the first half, would once again respond. Two minutes later the lead would be back to eight, and by the midway point of the second half, the lead would be back into double digits at 57-47.
Charlotte would come charging back though, cutting the Miner lead to just three at three different times in the final five minutes, but they wouldn't be able to come any closer than that.
Leading 66-63 with 30 seconds to play, the Miners would come up with one big stop and would knock down six straight free throws, stretching their lead back to six before escaping with the 73-68 win.
C.J. Cooper led the way for the Miners, scoring 15 points on 5-8 shooting, including 3-3 from distance. Vince Hunter scored 14 points and had 7 rebounds, Julian Washburn and Earvin Morris each finished with 11, and Cedrick Lang turned in his fourth double-double of the season with a 10 point, 10 rebound effort.
Mike Thorne Jr. led all scorers with 16 points and 13 rebounds, and Terrence Williams finished with 12 points. No other Charlotte player scored in double figures.
For the game, the Miners shot 49% from the field, 37.5% (6-16) from three, and 73.9% (17-23) from the free throw line. Charlotte finished 45% from the field, 45.5% (5-11) from deep, and 81.8% (9-11) from the line.
The 49ers crushed UTEP on the boards, finishing with a 39-26 advantage, including a huge 16 offensive rebounding effort compared to 8 for the Miners. Charlotte did, however, finish with 21 turnovers to 14 for UTEP.
The win improves the Miners to 17-7 on the season, and 9-3 in Conference USA play, but more importantly keeps them just a game back of first place Louisiana Tech who also won tonight. Charlotte drops to 10-14 overall and 3-8 in league play.
Up next, the Miners will take on Old Dominion Saturday night in the Don Haskins Center. Tipoff for that game is slated for 7:00 p.m. MT.
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