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FIU withstands late UTEP rally for 79-69 win

It could have been a great comeback, but too many early mistakes gave UTEP another conference loss.

It was a game of exciting second half of runs, but UTEP couldn't finish off their final run to close a 21-point second half deficit, snapping an 11-game C-USA home win streak at the hands of the FIU Golden Panthers 79-69.

Adrian Diaz scored 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field, while Daviyon Draper added 17 points, and 10 rebounds to help FIU grab sole possession of fourth place in the Conference USA standings.

Tim Floyd tried to take out Diaz, Draper, and guard Donte McGill, but the Miners couldn't keep McGill and FIU's guards out of the lane as McGill added 16 points, and four assists.

Draper also added six assists, FIU dished out 21 assists on their 31 field goals and shot 53.4 percent from the field in the game.  UTEP shot 41 percent from the field in the game, and 8-of-24 from three point land.

UTEP would start off efficiently well, making their first three looks from the field including a three pointer by Lee Moore, followed up by a layup from Omega Harris to put UTEP ahead 7-2 at the 17:45 mark.

Then UTEP turned it over three times in a three minute span, and found nothing but rim in the next stretch.

A three minute scoring drought aided a 15-2 FIU run capped off a by jumper from Donte McGill at the 12:00 mark of the first half giving the Golden Panthers a 17-9 lead.

The Miners would snap out of the cold streak with five straight points and some tough defensive rebounding.  A three pointer from Lee Moore broke the scoreless drought, then Moore found a diving Terry Winn for a nice layup cutting the FIU lead to 17-14 with 9:32 left until halftime.

Over the next stretch, UTEP had plenty of good looks but shots wouldn't fall, and FIU executed their zone offense to create some distance, and momentum.

FIU would knock down five of their next seven looks from downtown with UTEP switching zone looks, then a thunderous dunk by Adrian Diaz capped off a 16-7 spurt which put FIU ahead 36-23 with 2:06 left until halftime.

Elmo Stephen dropped in a three right before the end of the first half to seal off a 6-of-12 start from three point land for FIU, and gave the Golden Panthers a 41-28 halftime lead.

The first half difference was FIU's 53.3 percent shooting percentage, compared to a 39.3 shooting percentage, and 3-of-11 mark from long distance for the Miners.

Even with the poor shooting that took place in the first half, UTEP was still a run away from tightening things up.

If you watched the first ten minutes of the second half, you'd be crazy to think UTEP would cut a commanding 21-point lead, but UTEP dug deep, attacked the lane and turned a blowout into furious comeback attempt.

FIU jumped out to a 57-40 lead after a put back dunk by Diaz, then McGill attacked the baseline and cashed in a 10-foot jumper putting FIU ahead 59-40 at the 12:27 mark of the second half.

Draper continued the onslaught by draining a wide open three which gave FIU their largest lead of the game at 64-43 with 10:43 left in the game.

But then Lee Moore starting attacking the lane, Omega Harris couldn't miss from three,  and Earvin Morris did some dirty work to close the gap.

Moore would score 12-points during a 24-6 UTEP run in a 6:46 span to bring UTEP within a possession.

Down 70-56 with 6:24 left, UTEP scored 11 straight including a clutch three by Omega Harris, and a pair of free throws from Lee Moore that capped off the run, and cut the FIU lead to 70-67 with 2:48 left in the game.

FIU was called for a five second call, and then a 10-second call after some intense defensive full court pressure by UTEP during the 11-0 spurt.

Eric Nottage was 0-for-2 from the field in the game, but after the Lee Moore free throws Draper found Nottage wide open on the left wing for his lone basket of the night, a three pointer that put FIU back in front 73-67, proving to be the dagger FIU needed to seal a road win.

The Miners ended the game on a 1-of-9 stretch from the field in the final 3:19, as the luck and gas ran out after the 24-6 second half run.

Diaz hit three free throws after the Nottage three to put FIU ahead 76-67 with 1:29 left, thwarting any magical comeback efforts in the final minute.

Moore finished with 21 points, and eight rebounds, and shot an important 6-of-7 from the free throw line.   Harris was 4-for-5 from behind the three point line adding 19 points.  Earvin Morris reached double figures scoring 11 points, and added six rebounds.

UTEP held their own on the defensive glass despite being out rebounded 37-35, but FIU turned 12 UTEP turnovers into 16 points on the scoreboard,  and their ball movement and dribble penetration picked UTEP apart for 36 points in the paint, and a 8-of-18 mark from three point land.

The effort in the second half was surely encouraging, but once again UTEP's offensive woes, and cold stretches didn't help things on the defensive end which fueled FIU's runs.

It's back on the road next week with a date at Southern Miss. on Thursday, then a trip to Ruston on Saturday to face LA Tech.