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UTEP stops Middle Tennessee’s C-USA dominance with 57-54 upset

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UTEP closed the game on an exciting 19-6 run, and they also forced 19 turnovers in a resounding upset of Middle Tennessee 57-54 snapping the Blue Raiders 10 game C-USA winning streak.

The first half was a straight brick-fest by UTEP who shot 5-for-24 from the field in the opening half, but the Miners shot 63.6 percent in the final half, and received some clutch play down the stretch to complete the sweep of C-USA’s top two teams.

UTEP started 1-for-9 from the field, meanwhile Middle Tennessee’s JaCorey Williams provided most of the offense early on scoring six of the Blue Raiders first nine points helping them to a 9-3 lead with 12:24 left in the first half.

Antwain Johnson’s 3-pointer stretched MTSU’s lead to 14-9 at the 9:39 mark, although neither team would make a field goal for the next four minutes until a Paul Thomas layup cut the lead to 14-12 with 4:51 remaining until halftime.

Williams scored 11 first half points leading a 13-4 Middle Tennessee run to end the first half while Thomas’ layup was the last field goal UTEP made in the half.

Middle stretched their 27-16 halftime lead to 30-19 just a few minutes into the second half, but a 3-point play by Matt Willms off a baseline cut, layup, plus the free throw gave UTEP some life but still trailing 30-22 at the under 16 minute media timeout of the second half.

From there Williams got inside for an easy layup, then a 3-pointer from Giddy Potts started a 9-0 Middle Tennessee run as UTEP was in major trouble down 39-22 with 14:01 left in the game.

It looked like UTEP had no answer, but the Miners answered the run with three in a row from the field, and closed the game strong.

Matt Willms would start a 8-0 UTEP run with a hook shot followed up by a 3-pointer from Jake Fleggert, then Omega Harris buried a tough 3-pointer from the corner trimming the lead to 39-30 with 12:13 left.

Dominic Artis extended the run to 11-0 with a fast break layup plus the foul and free throw and UTEP was down six (39-33) with under 11 minutes left.

Tyrik Dixon ended the UTEP run as he stroked a 3-pointer putting MTSU back ahead 44-33 with just under 10 minutes left, and the Miners were back on the ropes.

Although the Miners would go on a 5-for-6 stretch from the field, and cut it to 50-46 after a tip in from Matt Willms making the final four minutes anyone's game.

Willms would then complete a 3-point play, then a bucket from Omega Harris gave UTEP their first lead 51-50 with 2:27 left awaking the Haskins Center.

JaCorey Williams then scored four straight to go back ahead 54-53, but a pair of free throws from Omega Harris and a pair of defensive stops helped UTEP close things out.

Harris’ free throws put the Miners back in front 55-54, then with about 10 secondsleft Edward Simpson missed a 3-pointer which was rebounded by Matt Willms who was fouled.

Willms made both freebies, then after a Miner timeout UTEP tried to unsuccessfully foul Giddy Potts with 7.8 seconds but Potts ended up missing a deep look from 3-point land giving UTEP the huge upset.

Artis finished the night with 13 points, seven rebounds, and just one turnover in 39 minutes. Willms added 14 points, and went 4-for-4 from the free throw line.

Paul Thomas was the third Miner to reach double figures adding 10 points and six rebounds, he went 4-for-5 from the free throw line.

UTEP shot 15-for-18 as a team from the free throw line and 9-for-10 in the second half, while MTSU went 5-for-10 in the game including a key miss down the stretch. UTEP also held Reggie Upshaw scoreless despite 24 points from JaCorey Williams. Brandon Walters was the only Blue Raider to score in double figures adding 10 points.

Middle Tennessee also struggled from long distance firing a 5-for-19 clip from long distance, but they did win the battle of the boards with a 32-24 edge.

After the ice cold first half shooting performance, the Miners went 14-for-22 from the field in the second half, and were 6-for-8 during the 19-6 run.

UTEP has now won six out of seven, and the big difference is UTEP’s ability to defend and get key stops which now forming into a winning identity for a team who was struggling to keep themselves in the hunt for the C-USA Tournament just a month ago.

UTEP is now 6-4 in C-USA play which puts them along in fourth place behind a third place tie between UAB and Old Dominion.

The Miners will host Louisiana Tech next Thursday, then Southern Miss on Saturday to complete this four game homestand.