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Middle Tennessee shocks UTEP 53-50

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UTEP refused to adjust, and fell flat in the second half via Middle Tennessee's suffocating defensive effort.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

UTEP had two chances to tie at the buzzer, but both C.J. Cooper and Omega Harris came up short in the closing seconds as six seed Middle Tennessee put the clamps on, holding UTEP to just 50 points in a 53-50 triumph.

The Miners came out with great offensive efficiency in the first ten minutes of the game, starting 9/16 from the field with seven assists on their first nine baskets.

Contesting every Middle Tennessee shot in the first ten minutes as well, the Miners frustrated the Blue Raiders into a 5/14 start from the field.

UTEP jumped out to an early 12-4 lead, then would go on to make their next four looks from the field, ending the red hot stretch with an Earvin Morris three pointer stretching the lead to 21-11 at the 10:13 mark of the first half.

But then Middle Tennessee went on a 7-0 run to pull within three, as UTEP went scoreless (0/7 from the field) after Morris' three pointer until Vince Hunter put back an offensive rebound at the 2:53 mark.

The Blue Raiders also went cold during the same stretch as they managed only field goal in the final 7:33 of the first half, shooting 30 percent for the half, but seven turnovers by UTEP kept the Blue Raiders within striking distance, but still facing a 25-20 deficit at the half.

UTEP's inability to stretch what should have been a steep margin in the first half hurt any chances for consistency in the second half.

Middle Tennessee out scored UTEP 11-7 in the first 6:30 of the second half, as the Miners started the half 3/8 from the field, and only held a one point 32-31 lead inside the 12 minute mark of the second half.

But then Reggie Upshaw connected on a huge three pointer that opened the door for an unlikely hero.

Upshaw's three answered three straight from UTEP, bringing the Blue Raiders back within one at 35-34, then DeVante Jones went into full hero mode.

Jones went on a personal 8-0 run, fueled by back-to-back threes and a pair of free throws that gave Middle Tennessee a 42-35 lead.

In the end Upshaw's three started a 11-1 run from the 10:31 mark until the 6:40 mark of the second half, leaving the Miners reeling for answers and needed adjustments.

UTEP hadn't seen a field goal go down since the 12:21 mark of the second half, until C.J. Cooper drilled a badly needed three pointer right under the six minute mark which brought UTEP within three at 42-39.

After Reggie Upshaw split a pair of free throws, Julian Washburn rattled home a deep three ball to further tighten things up with Middle leading 43-42 with just under five minutes left in the game.

But the second half ended up being the DeVante Jones show, and Tim Floyd had no answer for the 5'10 guard.

15 of Jones' 17 points came in the second half as did his four three pointers, and the junior drilled another pair of trifectas, later sinking a free throw after a very questionable intentional foul call on Vince Hunter that fueled a 7-2 run and a 50-44 lead as things headed under the three minute mark.

UTEP was again in the midst of another three minute scoring drought that featured an offensive foul call on C.J. Cooper who was clearly fouled while making a layup right as the clocked ticked to under a minute with the Miners still down 50-44.

Earvin Morris hit a pair of free throws, then 15 seconds later Julian Washburn swept in for a slashing layup, but the Miners still trailed 50-48 with 30 seconds left.

Perrin Buford hit a pair of free throws, followed up by an Earvin Morris layup as the teams traded points in an eight second span.

Cedrick Lang fouled Darnell Harris on the inbound, who would split a pair of free throws with 11 seconds left to give UTEP once last gasp.

With no timeouts left, C.J. Cooper faded away from a tough look at three that didn't hit anything, Omega Harris pulled in the offense board out of the air from under the basket, scurrying to the near corner for a fall away desperation shot at overtime that was a bit too strong sealing the upset.

UTEP had no answer in the final twelve minutes of the game, as guard play was non-existent with no adjustments made on Jones who was the difference in the final stretch of minutes.

The Miners finished the final 12:21 of the game with six field goals, and four turnovers to stumble in the C-USA Tournament semifinals, with a 22-10 overall record.

Two other Blue Raiders joined Jones in double figures, Reggie Upshaw provided an important 10 point, seven rebound effort, while Perrin Buford added 10 points, and did a great job defensively on Vince Hunter.

UTEP's rock of consistency Ced Lang led the scoring charge for UTEP with 14 points on 6/7 shooting from around the rim, adding eight rebounds.

Julian Washburn was the only other Miner to reach double figures with 12 points, Vince Hunter pulled in 14 rebounds, but was frustrated into a 4/13 mark from the field, finishing with nine points.

UTEP out scored Middle Tennessee inside the paint 28-18, and also had 10 points off turnovers, but went 5/10 from the free throw line, and could not handle Middle Tennessee's extended traps and pressure.

Surprisingly, the Blue Raiders shot just 35 percent from the field, but were 7/13 from the free throw line in the game, including 3/4 from the stripe in the final 22 seconds, and also used 28 points off the bench to dismantle UTEP's dancing dreams.

The Blue Raiders will now prepare for Saturday's championship game against either UAB or LA Tech, while UTEP waits on their NIT fate.