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The 3-ball, missed free throws lift LA Tech over UTEP 62-61

Dominic Artis missed a 3-pointer with three seconds left after UTEP clawed and scratched their way back from another double digit deficit, but the Miners fell thanks to a hot 3-point shooting stretch by LA Tech giving the Bulldogs a 62-61 road win.

Erik McCree canned all four of his 3-point looks, and finished with a game-high 19 points and also added eight rebounds. Daric Jean added 12 points, and Jy’lan Washington hit a trio of 3-pointers helping LA Tech take control in the second half.

The Miners had four score in double in figures, but mistakes down the stretch, and a 13-for-23 mark from the free throw line hampered any chance at another comeback win, setting UTEP back to 6-5 in C-USA play.

UTEP’s defensive improvement flexed its muscle in the first half, holding LA Tech to under 30 percent shooting from the floor in the opening half. The Bulldogs went 7-for-24 from the field, and UTEP never trailed in the opening 20 minutes.

A 3-pointer from Artis put the Miners ahead 27-19 with under four minutes left in the first half, and UTEP led 30-24 at halftime after the strong defensive showing to start the game.

LA Tech opened up the second half on a 21-5 run fueled by a 3-pointer from DaQuan Bracey, then a pair of triples from Erik McCree, followed up by Daric Jean hitting a pair of long balls that totally changed the momentum and pushed the Bulldogs out in front 45-35 just seven minutes into the second half.

In all, LA Tech hit five straight 3-pointers during the run, and started the second half 6-for-10 from long distance which in turn gave them separation for most of the opening 14 minutes of the second half.

UTEP would cut the lead down to six on two separate occasions during the next segment of minutes, but another 3-pointer from McCree pushed the lead back to double digits and a 51-41 LA Tech edge at the 10:12 mark of the second half.

It seemed like LA Tech had an answer for every UTEP spurt of momentum, but UTEP was able to get it down to six points again after Paul Thomas hauled in an offensive board and put it back home cutting the lead to 58-52 with 6:09 left.

Then Artis hit a jumper just a few minutes later keeping it close, but the Miners still trailed 61-54 with 4:10 left after Jean split a pair of free throws.

UTEP kept fighting and chipping away as Kelvin Jones fought for an offensive board followed up by his own put back layup making things interesting with UTEP down 62-58 heading into the final 2:30 of the game.

The biggest play of UTEP’s comeback was when Artis went top-shelf to Matt Willms who threw it down for a dunk off the alley-oop and UTEP trailed 62-61 with 1:17 left, and hopes of another comeback win were back within legitimate reach.

UTEP got back-to-back stops in the final minute, but turned it over with 44 seconds left and still down just a point. But on the second stop, Paul Thomas secured a 50/50 that was tied up and the possession arrow pointed in UTEP’s direction with 17.1 seconds left giving UTEP one last shot for the win still down 62-61.

Harris appeared to have a wide open look with eight seconds left, but deferred to Artis who missed from the right angle near the top-of-the-key, and the Miners narrowly missed out on defeating another top-dog in the C-USA race.

Harris scored 14 points, and shot 8-for-10 from the free throw line. Matt Willms chipped in 13 points, and eight rebounds, but was 3-for-7 from the charity stripe.

Arits finished with 12 points, four rebounds, and three assists, and Paul Thomas was the other Miner to reach double figures adding 11 points, and a game-high 13 rebounds.

The Miners struggled from long distance shooting 4-for-15 in the game, while LA Tech went 11-for-26 from behind the 3-point line, and 7-for-15 in the second half.

Rebounding was a key factor in UTEP’s comeback bid midway through the second half, but the battle of boards ended up being tied at 33.

Free throw shooting, key turnovers, and daggers from Erik McCree were the big differences, but the Miners continued to show defensive improvement in stretches, but in the end fall to a disappointing 8-15 overall on the season, and drop their first C-USA home game of the season.

Next up is a Saturday night date with Doc Sadler and Southern Miss, tip off is set for 7 p.m Mountain Time.