Cedrick Lang scored a season high 18 to go along with 10 rebounds, but he was virtually the only Miner who could get anything going offensively, and it translated into a disappointing loss Thursday night in Ruston, LA.
Erick McCree got the Bulldogs going early, scoring their first seven points while boosting them out to a quick 10-2 lead just over four minutes into the ball game. The Miners would get to within five at 13-8 three minutes later, but wouldn't be able to come any close than that the rest of the night.
Another 10-2 spurt would push the La Tech lead to 13 at 23-10, and while UTEP would get it back to just six at 33-27, it would end up being a nine point 37-28 deficit heading into the locker rooms.
La Tech would start the second half much the same way they did the first, this time using an 11-2 run to get the lead to 49-31 five minutes into the final stanza.
The Miners would respond a bit, getting the game to back to a 12 point difference with 11 minutes to go, but a bad call on Hooper Vint would cause coach Tim Floyd to blow a fuse, resulting in two techs, an ejection, and a quick change of momentum back in the favor of the team in red.
It may not have mattered anyway, but it was the icing on the cake of one of the most disappointing performances of the season. La Tech would cruise to the finish from there, eventually leading by as many as 22, before winning by a final of 79-60.
Cedrick Lang was the Miners' top performer with 18 points and 10 rebounds, Earvin Morris had a couple late buckets to get into double digits with 11, and Julian Washburn finished with 9 points and 9 rebounds.
Kenneth Smith and Raheem Appleby each finished their nights with 17 points, and a combined 8 rebounds and 7 assists. Erick McCree had a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Alex Hamilton chipped in with 9.
The Miners shot an ice cold 37.1% from the field, including just 3-17 from three, and also hit just 11 of their 18 free throw attempts. Louisiana Tech finished 45.5% from the field, 9-20 from three and 18-25 from the line. UTEP, surprisingly, committed just 7 turnovers to 13 for the Bulldogs, but were outrebounded 44-34.
The loss drops the Miners to 19-8 overall and 11-4 in Conference USA play. Louisiana Tech improves to 22-7 overall, but more importantly 13-3 in league action, and is now in the driver's seat for the league title.
It was an extremely disappointing and frustrating performance by the Miners. Its one thing to have an off night, but this team is making it a trend of not showing up in big games, and that falls squarely on the shoulders of Tim Floyd and his staff.
Its one thing to lose a game; a hard fought battle on a tough opponent's floor. Its quite another thing to get run out of the gym in the biggest game of the year. Again, its disappointing. Its frustrating. Its a tough one to swallow.
Up next, the Miners will take on the Southern Miss Golden Eagles Saturday night in Hattiesburg. Tipoff for that game is slated for 6:00 p.m. MT.
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