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UTEP Basketball: Miners outlast FIU 85-77 in C-USA Tournament Second Round

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UTEP started strong, but it would take another interesting finish to decide this one.

Lee Moore scored 30 points for the second time this season on 8-of-9 shooting, adding seven rebounds, and five assists as he carried UTEP down the stretch to hold off a vicious FIU second half comeback.

Earvin Morris joined Moore in double figures scoring 25 points on 7-of-12 shooting, Dominic Artis withstood a rough shooting night and added 11 points, five assists, and five rebounds.

UTEP hit seven 3-pointers, and scored on 55.1 percent of their possessions in the game, but had trouble rebounding as expected.

FIU just flat out crushed the Miners on the boards with a 43-24 advantage in the game, but the Miners played poised, tough, and smart down the stretch to hold off FIU 85-77.

After Daviyon Draper opened the scoring with a 3-pointer in the opening minutes, FIU would miss their next five looks from the field, but UTEP was unable take advantage of the slow start by the Golden Panthers in the first couple of minutes.

Elmo Stephen would hit a 3-pointer to bring the early score to 13-12 with UTEP leading at the 13:37 mark, but then UTEP turned up the pressure on defense, and shots started to rain down from everywhere.

Earvin Morris drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing, then Morris would finish off a fast break after a Dominic Artis block with a two-handed flush off a dish from Omega Harris.  Lee Moore put the bow on a 8-2 UTEP spurt as he knocked down a 3-pointer that gave UTEP a 21-14 lead at the 9:22 mark.

The UTEP run would grow to 20-7 as the lead grew with it after a triple from Dominic Artis which pushed UTEP ahead 33-19 with 5:41 left until halftime.

FIU turned it over eight times, and shot just 29.2 percent in the first half as the Miners packed the paint and forced FIU to beat them with the jump shot.

UTEP held an eye popping 16-2 points off turnovers edge in the first half, and led 40-29 at halftime.

But as we have seen this year, UTEP has had trouble protecting double digit leads in the second half, and the same ole story unfolded in the first 15 minutes or so of the second half.

Another slam by Morris saw UTEP jump out to a 46-34 lead in the first three minutes of the second half, but all of a sudden the 3-ball started to fall for FIU, and the Miners couldn't keep FIU out of the lane, and off the glass.

Donte McGill answered the Morris dunk with a 3-pointer which sparked a 20-10 FIU spurt that ended with a 3-pointer by Draper, bringing FIU within one, still trailing 56-55 with 9:49 left in the game.

UTEP held on to the trimmed lead, but couldn't stretch it larger than three over the next four minutes.

Adrian Diaz finally put FIU in front 67-65 with a pair of free throws, then Draper hit another big time 3-pointer which put FIU up 70-67 with 4:19 and running left in the game.

Then Lee Moore took over, scoring eight points in the final three minutes.

Dominic Artis tied things up at 70 with a clutch triple from the corner with 3:34 left which swung major momentum UTEP's way as they were flirting with the danger zone.

Efficient, and smart offense was key as UTEP finished the game on a 16-7 run, but a huge defensive play by Terry Winn proved to be huge.

Winn denied an entry pass intended for Adrian Diaz inside the paint, leading to a fast break, layup, foul, and free throw by Moore to cap off a 10-0 run which gave UTEP much needed breathing room and a 77-70 lead with 2:18 left in the game.

UTEP wasn't quite out of the water yet.  McGill completed a 3-point play to cut the lead down to four, but Adrian Diaz made a bonehead move which cost his team the game.

Fighting for an offensive rebound which a put back would have cut the lead down to two points, Diaz was fouled but extended his leg out and kicked Earvin Morris between the legs.

The result?

After a review, Diaz was tossed via a Flagrant 2 decision on the senior.  Then Jason Boswell hit a pair of free throws in place of Diaz for the original foul call on UTEP, but Lee Moore sank two free throws to give UTEP 79-75 lead with 1:25 to go and possession.

Morris was able to snatch down an offensive rebound minus Diaz on the ensuing possession, and Moore knocked down a baseline jumper with a hand his face which was the final dagger.

Diaz finished with 14 points, adding 11 rebounds, nine of which came on the offensive end as he was responsible for majority of FIU's 25-second chance points in the game.

UTEP shot 51 percent from the field to continue their stretch of shooting over 50 percent, but struggled at times from the free throw line.  In the end, they finished an important 26-of-34 from the charity stripe after a rough start at the line to start the second half.

A big key during FIU's comeback was UTEP's ability to take care of the ball as the Miners turned it over a season low seven times, and forced 17 FIU turnovers.

It was another tale of two different halves thanks to a scoring drought by UTEP, but the Miners were able to make plays down the stretch, and the Legend of Lee Moore lives on with another big performance.

UTEP will now prepare for high scoring Marshall tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. Mountain Time in the quarterfinal round.