Is the only way to describe the ending of the UTEP-Old Dominion game which was a battle for third place and was decided by the officials timer kept on the hip.
Matt Willms appeared to tip in a missed jumper by Omega Harris on the final shot with less than a second left in regulation, but the official clock didn’t start on time, forcing the officials to use their buzzers on their hip to decide the final ending.
In the end, a pair of bad fouls called on what would’ve been late defensive stops for UTEP, missed free throws, and ODU’s sheer physicality were hurdles the Miners couldn’t overcome as Saturday’s game against Charlotte is now a must-win for a top four seed after a 62-61 heartbreaking loss Thursday night.
ODU got off to a slow start from mid-range, while UTEP started 5-for-7 from the field in a first half filled with runs.
A three-pointer from Dominic Artis gave UTEP a 13-10 lead, and after both teams went scoreless for three minutes, Kelvin Jones stretched the UTEP lead to 17-10 after a pair of free throws with 9:16 left in the first half.
ODU closed gap with a 5-0 spurt as a three point play from Zorian Tally cut UTEP’s lead to 17-15 just a minute later.
UTEP answered with a 5-0 spurt themselves, as Paul Thomas matched Talley’s three point play with a bucket, foul and free throw of his own.
Thomas’ big play made it 22-15 UTEP with 7:25 until halftime, but the Monarchs exposed UTEP’s lack of power forward depth down the stretch of the first half.
ODU would outscore UTEP 18-10 from there, including a 16-5 run in the final 6:07 of the first half, taking a 31-27 lead into the halftime break.
UTEP shot 45.5 percent from the field in the first half, but eight second chance points from ODU ended up exposing the Miners.
The second half turned into a physical slug-fest as both teams went on lengthy field goal and scoring droughts, turning the second half into a defensive battle as expected.
UTEP went on a 1-for-8 stretch from the field, and Talley got inside for layup making 41-36 Monarchs with 10:49 left in the game.
The UTEP drought would continue with UTEP going nearly eight minutes without a field goal, and a 7-0 Old Dominion run gave the Monarchs a 48-38 lead with 7:44 to go.
UTEP trailed 51-40 with 7:17, and it looked like UTEP was about to run out of gas, but Trey Touchet gave UTEP a huge spark.
Touchet would score 12 points in the game, nailing two clutch 3-pointers in the next stretch to keep UTEP alive.
The second came with the Miners hanging on the ropes, and Touchet calmly drilled a 3-pointer cutting ODU’s lead to 53-48 with 4:26 left to go.
Then after a UTEP defensive stop, Jake Flaggert hit a clutch 3-pointer and UTEP was within a possession trailing 53-51 at the 3:45 mark of the second half.
ODU kept knocking it down from mid-range, and led 57-53 with two minutes left, then UTEP finally made their move and grabbed the lead.
Omega Harris knocked down a huge 3-point jumper, capping off a 16-6 UTEP spurt, and trimmed ODU’s lead to 57-56 after Harris’ 3-ball with 1:54 left to play.
Dominic Artis gave UTEP a 58-57 as he banked in a floater, then Harris drilled another 3-pointer this time giving UTEP 61-58 lead with a minute to play, and then things got wild.
Zorian Talley would hit a jumper, making it 61-60 with 52 seconds left, then Talley pulled the ole’ Kobe leg kick 50 seconds later, and Paul Thomas would be whistled for a phantom call send him to line.
Talley would hit both freebies, pushing the Monarchs ahead 62-61, and the drama was just starting.
Flaggert would heave a full court pass, which ended up being a loose ball going to UTEP with just three seconds left.
Harris had a good look with 2.5 seconds after time was added, but the clock appeared to start as Harris released his shot, and Willms tip-in was waived off after a lengthy review which was determined by an official that the best way to time the end was by his buzzer on his hip according to Tim Floyd.
Another key call going ODU’s way down the stretch was a clear charge by Brandon Stith along the baseline, but Flaggert was hit with a block and Stith tied the game at 58 by splitting his pair of free throws after it appeared UTEP had gotten a clear defensive stop.
UTEP had four score in double figures led by Harris who scored 14 points, Artis finished with 11 points, and Paul Thomas added 10 points.
The Miners shot 43.5 percent from the field in the end, and went 14-for-19 from the free throw line. After starting 0-for-6 from 3-point land in the second half, UTEP hit five second half 3-pointers, and ended the night 7-for-17 from behind the three-point arch.
Dominic Artis had a rough game despite reaching double figures and the clutch bucket late in the game. Artis turned it over four times, and missed a pair of free throws with 19 seconds left and the Miners up 61-60.
ODU edged UTEP on the boards 30-28, but seven offensive boards led to 10 second chance points. They also got 32 points off their bench, 17 coming from Talley off the pine to help ODU shoot 46.9 percent from the field in the end.
With Rice’s win tonight, UTEP has to win Saturday against Charlotte to secure a first round bye. UTEP has to erase and emotional loss, and prepare for an offensive minded squad.
UTEP and Charlotte tip off at 1 p.m on Saturday.