It wasn’t pretty, and there were plenty of times it felt like it would slip away from UTEP.
Although poise, defense, and a clutch effort from Dominic Artis in crunch-time helped UTEP escape Denton with a 77-71 overtime win Thursday night.
The Miners trailed for 32 minutes, missed some easy layups, and had some uncharacteristic defensive mishaps, but huge nights from Paul Thomas and the aforementioned Artis were key as UTEP improves to 8-5 overall in C-USA play.
UTEP once again got off to a slow start offensively starting 3-for-10 from the floor, but the Miners’ defense got things going for a stretch and Paul Thomas kept UTEP afloat in the first half.
North Texas held an 11-6 lead after a 3-pointer from Derail Green, but Paul Thomas provided some much needed offense for UTEP scoring eight of the Miners first 10 points.
Thomas would hit a jumper from the left corner, then on the ensuing possession his rebound led to a fast break run-out layup for Omega Harris which gave UTEP a 12-11 lead at the 13:03 mark of the opening half.
North Texas would answer with a 3-pointer, and would go scoreless for three minutes, while a Trey Touchet 3-pointer put UTEP ahead 15-14 near the ten minute mark.
The Mean Green would snap the scoreless stretch, and snap UTEP’s streak of five straight games of not allowing a fast break point thanks to a turnover and layup from Ja'Michael Brown with 8:56 left until halftime.
North Texas crossed UTEP up numerous times in transition piling up 12 fast break points in the game.
Lots of mistakes on both ends of the floor for both teams led to a very close first half in where the lead changed hands 13 times and it was North Texas taking a 29-28 lead into the halftime break.
North Texas committed seven first half turnovers, but hit five 3-pointers which ended up being a major factor. UTEP had a high number of defensive breakdowns inside the paint, and went 1-for-11 from long distance in the first half.
The 3-ball continued to be friendly for the Mean Green and Derail Green as he hit a pair of 3-pointers stretching the lead out to 37-30 just two minutes into the second half.
Green continued to wear it out from deep, making his sixth 3-pointer just a few minutes later and the Mean Green had UTEP on the ropes leading 42-34 with 15:40 left in the game.
North Texas had led by as much as ten points just a minute earlier, but UTEP stayed the course and was able to take advantage of back-to-back UNT turnovers during a 7-0 UTEP run, and the second led to a corner 3-pointer by Omega Harris which capped off the spurt and brought UTEP within a possession trailing 44-41 with 12:01 left in the game.
Harris stretched the run to 9-0 with a jumper from the top of the key, but Green once again hit from long distance to stop the run, and put North Texas ahead 47-43.
A put back dunk by Shane Temara put UNT back ahead 53-47 at the 8:45 mark of the second half and the Miners looked to be in trouble, but again, UTEP stayed poised.
Despite the North Texas storm of solid play, Trey Touchet and Jake Flaggert would each hit a 3-pointer weathering the stretch and cutting the lead to 57-55, then a floater by Dominic Artis made it 60-57 North Texas with 3:24 left.
Artis would tie it at 62 with a clutch 3-pointer, but Ryan Woolridge would answer with a deep 3-pointer as the shot clock ticked down and 1:46 left in the game.
Paul Thomas would answer on the ensuing possession with one of the biggest plays of the game, hauling in an offensive rebound leading to a bucket, foul, and free throw and the game was tied once again this time at 65-all with 1:15 left in the game.
UTEP would only get one shot in the final minute as Harris missed a jumper from the corner with 20 seconds left, then Thomas contested a J’Mychal Reese missed jumper at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
The Miners wasted no time in grabbing the lead via a pair of free throws from Paul Thomas, then Dominic Artis made in 70-65 with a huge 3-pointer at the 3:15 mark of the overtime.
UTEP led 72-68 and nearly led it slip away as two consecutive turnovers brought the game back to just a possession lead after a break away dunk by AJ Lawson made it 72-70 with 48 seconds left.
Trey Touchet would miss the front end of a one-and-one on the ensuing possession with 32 seconds left, then Lawson would miss a front end, putting Dominic Artis at the line with the Miners still leading 72-70 with 14 seconds left.
Artis made both, and made 3-of-4 from the line in the final six seconds to put a bow on this one.
The senior scored 10 points in overtime, finished the night with 19 points, five rebounds, and went 5-for-6 from the free throw line in overtime. He also did not commit a turnover in 39 total minutes.
Paul Thomas ended the night with 23 points, and 14 rebounds, Willms added 11 points and seven rebounds. Omega Harris chipped in 13 points and Touchet added eight points and a pair of useful 3-pointers.
UTEP shot 46.2 percent from the floor on the night, and went 4-for-7 from long distance in the second half and overtime after the rough start early on.
The Mean Green edged UTEP 42-40 on the boards, but sloppy turnovers down the stretch helped UTEP cash in on 16 points off turnovers. UTEP also shot 51.7 percent in the second half, averaging 1.156 points per possession in the second half.
The win sets up a huge showdown with Rice Saturday night in Houston.
UTEP is now in a four way tie for third place with Rice, Old Dominion and Marshall.
A few months ago wins like Thursday’s overtime triumph were far fetched, but so was a third place finish and the Miners have a HUGE chance to shake up the standings Saturday night in H-Town.