Vince Hunter had his 12th double-double of the season, and Julian Washburn had his best offensive performance of the year as the Miners edged Rice 68-65 to earn the 2nd seed in the upcoming C-USA tournament.
UTEP came out blazing hot, jumping out to a 10-0 lead three and a half minutes into the ballgame. That lead would go to 11 on a Hunter made free throw moments later, but the Owls would begin to chip away from there.
A Marcus Jackson three with seven minutes left would cut the lead to five at 19-14, and a quick 7-2 spurt over the final two minutes of the half would cut the Miners' lead down to just two as the teams headed into the locker rooms.
Bishop Mency would give the Owls their first lead of the game on a made three to start the second half, but five straight by the Miners would quickly put them back on top 34-30.
Another Mency three would tie the game just over a minute later, and the game would continue to be tight the rest of the afternoon.
After a handful of ties and lead changes, the Owls would surge ahead 56-52 with just under five minutes left in the game. The Miners would score six straight to take the lead back, and despite one more tie, they wouldn't give it back again.
Six made free throws in the final 41 seconds would ice this one for the Miners, and in the end they'd walk away with the 68-65 victory.
Vince Hunter led the way with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Julian Washburn had 19 points and 5 assists on 8-11 shooting, and Cedrick Lang finished with 11 points and 5 rebounds.
Marcus Jackson led the Owls with 19 points and 4 rebounds. Max Guercy and Bishop Mency each finished with 12 points, and Seth Gearhart finished with 10 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.
As a team the Miners shot 46.8% from the field, but just 5-17 from three and 19-31 from the free throw line. Rice shot 42% from the field while knocking in 9-21 from range and 14-19 from the free throw line.
The teams ended dead even in rebounding at 32, including 11 on the offensive end. The Miners committed 12 turnovers to 15 for Rice.
The win improves the Miners to 21-9 overall and 13-5 in C-USA play, but more importantly locks up the second seed in the upcoming conference tournament. Rice falls to 11-19 and 8-10 in league play.
The Miners started with great intensity but were unable to sustain that beyond the first five minutes of the contest. They've got to find a way to harness that energy and put it together for 40 minutes at a time, if they want to make a run in the conference tourney.
Action in the tourney begins on Wednesday with teams 5-12 playing in the opening round. The Miners are off until Thursday, and will take on a team yet to be determined, but will play the winner of the 7-10 matchup.
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