(Courtesy: UTEP Athletics)
EL PASO, Texas - The UTEP men’s basketball team’s comeback bid came up just shy, as visiting Texas A&M-Corpus Christi escaped with a 67-63 victory at the Don Haskins Center Wednesday evening.
The Miners (5-3), who trailed by as many as seven on two occasions in the second half, were down by just one (64-63) with 42 seconds left after a pair of Calvin Solomon free throws.
UTEP then seemingly got the stop it needed at the other end, but the Islanders (3-4) managed to secure multiple offensive rebounds before scoring on a putback from Dayne Prim to go back up three with 11 ticks left in regulation.
UTEP called timeout to set up a play to try to tie it up, but unfortunately it committed the final of its 21 turnovers in the game to wipe away the chance.
The Miners fouled immediately on the inbound, but Texas A&M-Corpus Christi put away the contest with a free throw by Prim.
“First of all, give a lot of credit to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, I thought they were the tougher team for 40 minutes. We talked to our guys about it,” UTEP head coach Joe Golding said. “I thought the last play of the game summed it all up. They get three offensive rebounds. The toughness part, they won the battle in there and got a big bucket there to go up three. Credit them. Their staff had them prepared and ready to play. We told our guys they were a good team. We didn’t do a good job as a staff. We’ve got to do a better job, that’s the bottom line. You’ve got to be ready and prepared to play each and every night.”
Otis Frazier III led the way for the home side with 16 points, aided by setting career highs for both free throws made (nine) and attempted (14).
Solomon joined him in double figures with 13 points to go along with six boards and a team-high tying four assists.
Tae Hardy, UTEP’s leading scorer on the season, added nine points and Kevin Kalu produced a campaign-best eight points in addition to pulling in five caroms.
Zid Powell snagged eight rebounds while pitching in six points and matching Solomon with four helpers.
The Miners connected on 42.3 percent (22-52) from the floor but were hindered by finishing 3-19 from distance.
They enjoyed a 34-26 advantage for points in the paint, in addition to a 20-15 edge on fastbreak points.
At the other end of the court, UTEP harassed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi into 19 turnovers and held it to 40.8 percent (20-49) shooting.
The visitors made up for that by winning the boards (37-32), knocking down five treys and going 22-30 at the line compared to the Orange and Blue’s effort of 16-24.
Dian Wright-Forde (17 points), Lance Amir-Paul (11 points) and Tedrick Washington (11 points) hit double figures in scoring to lead the way for the Islanders. Primm finished with eight points, including the insurance basket and eventual free throw to seal it, while adding a game-best 12 rebounds.
UTEP raced out to an early 5-0 lead, including consecutive lay-ups set by Hardy and Frazier III respectively.
Both buckets came off nifty passes, with the first by Solomon and the second courtesy of Powell.
The Islanders got on the board with a trey two minutes into the game. It was back-and-forth over the next several minutes before UTEP ripped off a 6-0 run to turn a 9-7 edge (15:18, 1H) into an eight-point cushion (15-7) in a span of three minutes.
Solomon made beautiful passes to afford easy scores for David Terrell Jr. and Frazier III to cap the surge.
The Orange and Blue looked to be in good shape, holding a 25-19 advantage with 5:51 left in the stanza, but the visitors kept hanging around and eventually got on track.
The Islanders scored the final eight points of the period to carry a 33-28 edge into the locker room.
A turnaround hook from Solomon and two free throws by Frazier III cut the deficit to one (33-32) early in the second half, but Texas A&M-Corpus Christi accounted for the next six points to stretch the differential to seven (39-32, 16:34, 2H).
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi continued to play from ahead (44-39, 12:18 2H) before an 8-3 push by UTEP pulled the home side even at 47 (9:47, 2H).
Included in the surge was a sensational behind-the-back pass from Solomon to Kalu for a dunk.
Powell eventually tied it with two free throws following a technical foul on the Islanders’ bench.
The visitors struck back with five straight points and nudged the margin back to seven with 7:35 to play.
Camper Jr. sparked a rally bid with a personal 5-0 run, knocking down a trey and then tipping in a missed shot.
The Miners tied it two more times down the stretch but were unable to get over the hump.
UTEP wraps up the mini two-game homestand, playing host to Western New Mexico at 7 p.m. MT on Monday (Dec. 4.)
The contest will be broadcast on 600 ESPN El Paso and streamed on ESPN+ (subscription required).
Tickets are available by visiting www.UTEPMiners.com/Tickets or by calling (915) 747-UTEP.