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UTEP Basketball: Miners sneak past Rice in final seconds

Whew, that was close.

Dominic Artis got inside the lane for a layup to put UTEP ahead 61-60 with twelve seconds left, and Terry Winn came up with a block on the ensuing end as time ran out to help UTEP escape their C-USA opener with a 61-60 win over Rice.

Four Miners reached double figures led by Lee Moore who scored a game high 15 points, while Winn and Artis each added 14 points, and Omega Harris chipped in 12 points to pace UTEP.

The Miners started off the game with some efficient offensive execution, starting 6-of-10 from the field, and sprinted out to a 15-6 lead after Omega Harris swung it to Lee Moore in the left corner for a three-ball at the 13:06 mark of the first half.

UTEP's starters played an excellent nine minute stretch to open the game which ended up being a big difference in the first half.

But as expected from the scrappy Owls, they had an answer for the solid UTEP start with an 8-3 spurt after Moore's three when Max Guercy hit a triple to cut the lead and cap off the run three minutes later as UTEP held a 18-14 lead.

Defense appeared to be optional in some segments of the first half as both teams went back-and-forth on the offensive end for a three minute stretch.

Bishop Mency drilled a wide-open corner three pointer off some great ball movement to cut the UTEP lead to three, then Dominic Artis countered on the other end by completing a three point play to put UTEP up 27-21 with 5:54 left until halftime.

The Miners shot just a blip under 45 percent from the field in the half, and took their first double digit lead (37-27) after Omega Harris got a kind roll on a three-pointer to help UTEP  take a 37-29 lead into the halftime break.

A big concern coming in was the production Rice regularly gets from guards Marcus Evans, and Egor Koulechov.

But both shot a combined 2-of-10 from the field in the first half, as Rice turned it over eight times, and shot just 38.5 percent from the field in the first twenty minutes.

UTEP came out strong out of the break, scoring five straight, then Lee Moore created and hit a three pointer from the near the corner to put UTEP out in front 45-33 at the 17:23 mark of the second half.

But a pair of UTEP offensive dry spells, and a key technical foul on Hooper Vint kept the Owls in it.

The first was a 3:46 scoring drought, ended by a pair of Christian Romine free throws with UTEP holding a 49-40 lead.

The second came in the form of an 0-of-7 stretch from the field by UTEP and another three minute-plus scoring drought with Rice positioning themselves within striking distance trailing 49-45 at the 8:25 mark of the second half.

UTEP would go more than eight minutes without a field goal in the midst of a 1-of-12 cold spell from the field as Guercy would get inside the lane with a floater to make things interesting with UTEP leading 51-48 with under seven minutes left in the game.

From there, Lee Moore would stop the field goal drought with a layup, then Omega Harris would get a floater in the lane to drop, but Andrew Drone stopped a could be run with a tough layup with UTEP still leading 55-50 with 5:40 left.

Then things got even more interesting.

Dominic Artis tried to fit in a pass to Hooper Vint who had three Owls defenders all over him forcing a turnover, and Koulechov unconsciously dropped in a three from top of the key on Rice's next possession to cut the UTEP lead to 59-57 with 2:44 left.

Then in the final minute a wild finish decided the outcome.

Down 60-59 after Marcus Evans dropped in a floater to give Rice the lead with 23 seconds left, and despite having two timeouts, Floyd opted to let the Miners go on their own in the final seconds as Dominic Artis took it the length of the court for a tough layup to put UTEP back in front 61-60.

With no timeouts left for Rice, Evans threw up a good look on the ensuing possession that bounced off the rim, but it fell into the hands of Andrew Drone who drew contact, but had his shot blocked by Winn as time expired.

"I feel like we're 0-1." Tim Floyd said after the game as the Miners were crushed on the boards in the final 15 minutes of the second half, and were out rebounded 42-31 on the night.

Terry Winn provided a solid all around performance as he led UTEP with eight rebounds, and added two big blocks to his impressive line in UTEP's Conference USA opener.

Both teams shot under 40 percent from the field for the game, but UTEP shot 7-of-13 from the free throw line in the second half to survive a very disciplined Rice squad.   Lee Moore came through with a 7-of-8 performance from the charity stripe in the ball game.

Tim Floyd pinned the Rice comeback in the final 16 minutes on a key technical on Hooper Vint that changed the complexion of the game.

UTEP was up 47-35 when Vint was hit with the T essentially allowing Rice to out score UTEP 23-12 over the next fifteen minutes to come within one at 59-58 with 1:54 left in the game.

Nonetheless a win is a win no matter how ugly it may be, as UTEP starts 1-0 in conference with North Texas coming into the Don Sunday afternoon at 3:00 p.m.