Tim Floyd’s Miners gave themselves a chance, but they would run out of gas down the stretch, and withered in the final minutes falling to Mississippi State 61-54 in the Charleston Classic 5th place consolation game.
Down 56-54 with 2:55 left in the game, UTEP came up empty on two consecutive possessions with a chance for a tie or the lead, then Mississippi State dropped a late dagger to deflate another encouraging UTEP effort.
UTEP started hot on both sides of the floor, but it was a competitive first half that went back-and-forth for the entire opening 20 minutes.
Active team team defense by UTEP held Mississippi State to a 2-of-8 start from the field, while a three-point play from Dominic Artis gave the Miners an early 10-4 lead.
UTEP would extend the lead to 15-4 apart of a 15-2 spurt after Trey Touchet hit a 3-pointer, then Paul Thomas hit a long jumper from the top of the key to polish off the run five and a half minutes into the game.
But the Miners would then come up empty on their next five offensive trips, and Aric Holman would finish off an 8-0 Bulldog run with back-to-back dunks to cut the UTEP lead to 15-12 at the 11:45 mark of the first half.
Holman shredded UTEP in the paint for 14 first half points, and went 6-of-6 from the field all coming from around the rim.
Mississippi State’s run would increase to 16-3 as UTEP looked lost on offense during the six minute stretch, giving up the lead and trailing 20-18 with just under eight minutes left in the first half.
Omega Harris would then score five straight including a clutch three pointer to give UTEP a 23-20 lead as the lead change hands five times in the first half, and the game was tied five times including a 33-33 halftime score.
The Miners built a 38-33 lead after the Bulldogs started 0-of-5 from the field to open the second half. And just the like the first half, both teams traded runs in the opening nine minutes of the second half.
Paul Thomas would score on a put back via an offensive rebound, then on the next possession he would cut inside the lane and received a feed from Matt Willms in where Thomas would get fouled, make the layup, and hit the free throw giving UTEP a 43-35 lead during a 10-2 UTEP spurt.
But Mississippi State would score seven straight answering UTEP’s run as Tyson Carter’s 3-pointer from the left corner trimmed the UTEP lead to 43-42 heading into the final 12 minutes of the game.
Despite UTEP’s quick start to the second half, UTEP would end up starting the second half 4-of-16 from the field, and a near three minute scoring drought put Mississippi State ahead for good.
Holman slammed one home as he was set up nicely by Lamar Peters to help Mississippi State during a 14-2 run take a 49-45 lead.
Dominic Artis would drive to the rim on back-to-back possessions after back-to-bak UTEP defensive stops to tie the game at 49 approaching the five minute mark of the second half.
Peters’ 3-pointer with 3:13 left in the game put the Miners on the ropes down 56-51 but Artis answered with a big boy 3-pointer of his own to cut the lead to 56-54.
Although Peters’ 3-pointer after UTEP squandered a chance to tie or take the lead twice down the stretch was the difference.
With 51 seconds left, Peters dropped the deciding 3-point dagger giving the Bulldogs a 59-54 lead while UTEP went the final three minutes without scoring including those two blown chances while down a possession.
UTEP was without Terry Winn who was sent home due to an “incident” according to assistant coach Phil Johnson who said this on his post game radio interview.
Artis scored 15 points, and added five rebounds, and three assists but went 1-of-6 from long distance. Omega Harris added eight points, and four rebounds but was 3-of-9 from the field.
Overall UTEP struggled from behind the 3-point line going 4-for-22, and finished 37.3 percent from the field thanks to a 7-of-26 clip in the second half.
Willms finished with 12 points, and 11 rebounds, but left some points on the floor as he went 6-of-12 from the charity stripe. UTEP ended the night 12-of-20 from the free throw line.
Holman led the Bulldogs with a career high 18 points before fouling out, leading the Bulldogs who shot 40.4 percent in the game.
UTEP (2-2) returns home for Wednesday game against Southeastern Louisiana at 7:05 in the Don.