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UTEP Basketball: Earvin Morris gets sweet revenge against WKU

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Some thoughts on UTEP's wild weekend of hoops.

Ivan Pierre Aguirre/UTEP Communications

Last season, WKU and UTEP battled in a thrilling WKU win in overtime, but this season Earvin Morris wouldn't allow UTEP to walk-off with the L.

Morris scored 11 of UTEP's 16 points in overtime on Saturday, capping off a wild weekend of UTEP hoops with 32 points, and a possible C-USA player of the week bid.

"When we got down, we never got down on ourselves."  Morris said after the game.  "We just told each other to keep fighting, lets get stops, and play tough, and that's what we did."

Last season Morris went 2-of-3 from the free throw at the end of of regulation after being fouled on a three point look to win it.   The lone miss could have won the game in Bowling Green, instead UTEP lost to the Tops in overtime.

But this year Morris threw down three crowd pleasing dunks, and came up with some clutch plays down the stretch, but more importantly Morris had zero turnovers and owned a +/- of 12.

In the prior three games before Saturday, Morris turned the ball over nine times in those three games, but staying smartly aggressive helped Morris overcome the rough stretch.

"I felt like I was being aggressive early in the first half." Morris said. "My shot wasn't really falling but I just stayed aggressive and it paid off."

The ability to get in the paint with his aggressive approach led to a 9-of-13 mark at the free throw line, and allowed Morris to finish the overtime with some easy looks in the paint off his dribble drive.

Not only was Morris magical on offense, he had the assignment of guarding the bigger Justin Johnson when UTEP would play with four guards, and he also drew two key charges in the second half which proved to be big plays on the defensive end.

Tim Floyd thinks Morris' gained confidence on the offensive end over the weekend will help the Miners in a big way going forward.

"He played back-to-back really good games." Floyd said of Morris.  "He has his head back up, and that's obviously helped our club."

The Glory Road Experience

Tim Floyd said each year he educates every UTEP team on the 1966 National Championship by showing CBS's Road to Glory documentary which was filmed in 1996.

The 2015-16 Miners not only got to experience the '66 champs up close and personal throughout the weekend, they fully embraced the proud culture that is UTEP's basketball rich history, with wide smiles, and a thrilling overtime win.

"It was definitely a must win."  Morris said of playing in front the '66 champs.  "They paved the way for us, and with them here to see us play, it was definitely a must win for us."

Saturday was not only a memorable experience due to the 19-point comeback overtime victory, but the current Miners shared special moments with the 1966 champs all weekend, giving them a lifetime of behind the scenes memories to pass on.

"I can't really put it into words."  A humbled Dominic Artis said about his interaction with the '66 team.  "They really let us know the meaning of it. It was real special, a surreal moment."

Artis spent time with Orsten Artis, as they "hit it off" says Tim Floyd.   They both found out they each could have family ties in California and in the Carolina's and were planning to dig further to see if they are actually related.

A special moment also came after the game when the Miners became fans after their overtime battle, getting their custom made game worn shoes autographed by Saturday's special visitors who came to congratulate them in the locker room after the game.

"It was great to actually meet them and see them." Earvin Morris said.  "I actually got a couple of signatures, and that meant the world to me.  They showed us how to win."

The current Miner team ate breakfast with the 1966 champs prior to the game in where strategy was a topic of conversation.

"They are very, very mindful of the historical significance of this." Tim Floyd said of the current players.  "For these players to be around our guys, for these guys to sit there with them at the breakfast and talk to them about how they want them to play."

"I thought it was so cool when they walked them out there for the starting lineups.  But all of those things are good, I think these kids more importantly are going to remember this game for the rest of their lives which is what it's all about." Floyd added.

As Artis pointed out, the personal messages and lessons received by the champs throughout the weekend wasn't all about X's and O's.

"They were saying they were very loose as a team off the floor and had a lot of fun together." Artis said of lessons he could use for the remainder of the seaosn.  "They were a cohesive group, and I feel like we have some of those traits.  So just bonding together on the court, and off the court and really getting closer."

Morris said Willie Worsley gave him a personal message he will keep forever.

"They told us just play hard." Morris said. "There's one comment Willie Worsley gave me that I can't say on TV, but it was really motivational."

Lee Moore continues strong stretch

Moore has been solid in his last five games, averaging 17.4 points and 6.6 rebounds, and has shot over 45 percent from the field in all five games.

He was 0-of-5 in the first half against WKU, but a scoreless first half led to a memorable second half in where Moore wiggled past WKU defenders for layups, and knocked some clutch threes during UTEP's comeback run.

Moore was 7-of-10 from the field in the second half, and continues his crafty scoring ways when UTEP is looking for those must have buckets.

"Lee Moore is crafty scorer, a lot of guys can't really stay in front of him." Earvin Morris said.  "When he gets into the lane he's great at drawing fouls.  He's a great player, and a great asset for me to play along side with."

Playing with four guards has seemed to really get Moore going, and Dominic Artis thinks UTEP is pretty deadly with the fast paced lineup

"I feel like we're very deadly in transition." Artis said.  "Playing four guards helps us to do that."

In a season with plenty of inconsistencies, Moore's clutch play as of late has shown the potential he has to become a fearsome household name around Conference USA.

Defense rebounds late

UTEP was getting burnt on seemingly every drive-by in the first 30 minutes of play, and they had no answer for Fredrick Edmond who was flat out going off.

But then UTEP's full court pressure changed the game during UTEP's second half run.

"Our full court pressure seems to be helping us some." Floyd said.  "We forced some turnovers, and that got us some easy run outs, and layups. "

WKU turned it over nine times in the second half, and the speed of UTEP's amped up defensive tempo got WKU out of their high-low game which was picking UTEP apart in the half court.

"We sped the game up, and kept it away from their high-low game and Justin Johnson."  Floyd said. "We tried to make other guys make shots.   Edmonds. we didn't have an answer for."

UTEP's has struggled defending in the half court all season long, but for the second game in a row, UTEP's tempo on both ends of the floor helped force turnovers in a big way.