Dominic Artis led UTEP with 25 points, carrying the Miners down the stretch as they survived a thrilling 87-85 exhibition win against D-2 Alaska-Fairbanks.
It was a rough opening 20-minutes for UTEP, minus Omega Harris who did not play in the first half as Tim Floyd said he wanted to give extra minutes to freshman Deon Barrett.
The Miners found themselves down 8-2 early on, then never led in the first half despite shooting exactly 60 percent from the field in the first half.
A 3-pointer from Alaska-Fairbanks’ Spencer Clark gave the Nanooks a 28-21 lead with 8:48 left until halftime.
UTEP would go on a 9-3 spurt after that to cut the lead to just one, but went into the half trailing 40-36, and went 0-for-3 from three-point land in the opening half.
It took UTEP more than two minutes to get on the board in the second half as Fairbanks stretched their lead to 43-36, but a Jake Flaggert 3-pointer cut the lead to 43-39 with 17:43 left in the game.
A run fueled by some exciting hustle plays helped UTEP grab their first lead.
The Miners rolled of an 8-1 run finished off by a 3-pointer from Dominic Artis that put UTEP ahead 50-48 as the 13 minute mark approached, which made things interesting in the final 12 minutes.
A powerful two hand dunk from Kelvin Jones pushed UTEP ahead 55-48 with 9:35 left, then a fast break dunk off a defensive stop flushed by Matt Willms followed up by a jumper from Artis put UTEP up 61-55 with 6:20 left in the game which was apart of a 6-0 UTEP spurt that broke up a 55-all tie.
Although the Nanooks kept chipping away from long distance.
Nahjee Matlock led Alaska with 21 points, and hit a 3-pointer, then two free throws to give his team the lead at 67-66 with 2:20 left.
Then Brandon Davis dialed up a long ball to push the visitors ahead 72-70, then he virtually put this one out of reach with a steal and easy layup to give them a 74-70 lead with just under a minute left in regulation.
But on the ensuing UTEP possession, Trey Touchet knocked down a clutch 3-pointer from the right corner, plus the foul and free throw to tie things up at 74.
UTEP had a last second chance for the win in regulation, but Terry Winn fumbled that chance with a failed post move that resulted in a turnover with two seconds left.
Matlock would drop in another 3-ball, this time it gave Alaska an 85-80 lead with exactly two minutes left in the overtime.
That 3-pointer from Matlock would be the final field goal for Alaska in the final two minutes of overtime, as Artis scored UTEP’s last four points, including two free throws to give UTEP their 87-85 win.
“That little team we played did a real nice job,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “That was good for our guys to be in a game where time and score meant something, although we didn’t handle the situations real well.”
Terry Winn added 19 points, and nine rebounds on 7-of-13 shooting, Willms produced 10 points in 14 minutes of action in his return to the Miners’ lineup.
“It was nice to see Matt Willms out on the floor again for a few minutes,” Floyd said. “We would’ve liked for Paul Thomas to play longer and get more than 14 minutes. That would’ve been good for him in his development. It was nice to get Deon Barrett out there in situations and let him play and be able to find out what he can do, and Chris Barnes for some meaningful minutes.”
Artis played 37 minutes and also scooped up six rebounds, and handed out three assists, but did commit six of UTEP’s turnovers.
Harris who played the entire second half finished with 10 points, three assists, and three steals for the Miners who ended the night shooting 53.6 percent from the field.
Kelvin Jones was solid on the offensive glass, hauling in five offensive boards, and finished with eight total rebounds and five points in 2 minutes.
Alaska fired up 41 3-point attempts, but UTEP controlled the glass in the second half for 50-38 rebounding margin.
The Miners only allowed 18 points inside the paint, but turned it over 23 times which led to 21 points off turnovers for Alaska.
Floyd tinkered with some lineups throughout the exhibition which will hopefully become beneficial later is the season.
“We tried a lot of different things,” Floyd said. “We wondered what it would look like with two big guys, Kelvin and Matt out there at one time. We wondered what it would look like with three point guards out there. Something else I would’ve liked is three point guards and Jake Flaggert as a fourth in a pick and pop game with one of the bigs, which we didn’t quite get to. But that’s what these games are about.”
Despite the exhibition approach, it wasn’t pretty once again with UTEP turning the ball over during inopportune situations, and also showing trouble in defending 3-point line at times.
“We play for real here in another week,” Floyd said. “Fans saw some exciting ball, although it may not be as pretty as what everybody wanted. Our goal is to try to get Matt Willms healthy where he can play about 30 or 32 minutes a game and then get some support from these other guys. [Matt is] tentative and unsure, but we’re still better with him than we are without him. We’ve got to get better with our decision-making. Too many turnovers. We’ll try to grow from all of those things.”
UTEP will certainly remain a rebuilding work in progress, and will officially open the season next Saturday with Louisiana College.