Whatever the UTEP men’s basketball team needed to just keep close with Middle Tennessee never showed up Friday, and in turn Middle Tennessee proved why they are one of the top Mid-Major’s in college basketball.
The Blue Raiders forced 18 UTEP turnovers which led to 25 points off turnovers, and shot 46.7 percent from the floor in the second half as they were never tested and easily ended UTEP’s season 86-52 in the C-USA Tournament Semifinal.
Reggie Upshaw was held scoreless in the first UTEP-MTSU matchup, but the senior scored 18 points leading four Blue Raiders in double figures also helping Middle Tennessee ink their name into the at-large picutre barring a slip up tomorrow in the championship game tomorrow.
Middle Tennessee’s defense frustrated UTEP into a rough start offensively as the Miners fell into an first half early hole and never really showed life the rest of the way.
UTEP went 1-for-4 from the field, mixed with three turnovers on their first seven possessions helping Middle Tennessee score seven straight for a 7-2 lead just two and a half minutes into the game.
The struggles would continue thanks Middle Tennessee’s tough defense, and some careless mistakes by UTEP.
Omega Harris would get UTEP out of their early slump with a 3-pointer making it 7-5 Middle, but the Blue Raiders rolled on a 10-2 run to lead 17-7 at the 10:55 mark of the first half.
Back-to-back 3-pointers from Antwain Johnson gave the Blue Raiders a 31-18 lead with just under four minutes left in where UTEP had more turnovers than made field goals.
UTEP ended the half with nine field goals, and nine turnovers, a formula that gave Middle Tennessee a commanding 37-23 halftime lead.
The Blue Raiders also flexed their depth in the first half, with four 3-pointers, and 17 points coming off their bench. They also assisted on 10 of their 13 made field goals in the first half sending UTEP reeling into the halftime break.
UTEP turned it over on their first three possessions of the second half, and were in the danger zone at the under 16 media timeout in the second half trailing the Blue Raiders 45-27.
Things would get worse after a put back from Tyrik Dixon, a 3-pointer from Reggie Upshaw, then Giddy Potts would tip in a missed layup by Dixon which was started by a steal from Potts and Middle led 57-36 with 10:33 to go in the game.
Middle Tennessee led by as much as 29-points in the final minutes of the game, and cruised into the championship against either LA Tech or Marshall.
Paul Thomas scored 18 points to lead UTEP on 7-for-10 shooting, and he also grabbed four rebounds. Omega Harris scored 17 points adding four assists and four rebounds.
Dominic Artis had a disappointing exit only scoring six points on 2-for-6 shooting. Middle Tennessee’s 1-3-1 zone effected everything UTEP wanted to establish, holding Matt WIllms to a 2-for-7 outing from the floor, and only four points for Willms.
UTEP shot 39.2 percent from the field, and 2-for-10 from long distance and only scored on 26 of their 72 total possessions in the game.
MTSU also controlled the boards with a 41-30 edge, Upshaw added eight rebounds, and Jacorey Williams scored 13 points.
The Blue Raiders also dominated the hustle stats with a 12-3 edge in steals, 12-2 edge in fast break points, and a 10-2 edge in second chance points.
Much respect is due for the Miners mid-season turnaround, but in the end, UTEP failed to make the C-USA Tournament championship game for the sixth straight season, and marks the second below .500 overall record under Tim Floyd’s seven year tenure.
UTEP basketball off-seasons are never fun in El Paso, and the Miners embark on an off-season with seven potential newcomers, and another disappointing end in the C-USA Tournament.