POSTED: Sunday, January 2, 2011 - 6:36pm
UPDATED: Sunday, January 2, 2011 - 11:39pm
Randy Culpepper scored 23 of his 31 points in the second half, as UTEP won its 10th straight home game with a 74-65 victory over Sam Houston State on Sunday at the Don Haskins Center.
The Miners (12-3) will now turn their attention to the Conference USA schedule. UTEP will open defense of its C-USA title at home against Tulsa on Wednesday at 7:05 p.m.
UTEP has tied the school record for most wins entering league play. The Miners were 12-0 heading into their WAC opener against Air Force during the 1983-84 season.
The Miners were behind by as many as 10 points in the first half to the Bearkats (7-6), who won 25 games last season and played in the NCAA Tournament. But UTEP outscored SHSU 17-7 over the final eight minutes of the period to knot the game at 32 heading into the locker room.
The Miners took the lead for good at 36-34 on a Claude Britten layup with 18:23 to play. A layup by Gabe McCulley gave UTEP its largest lead of the night, 58-46, with 10:03 remaining. The Miners were able to hang on despite SHSU whittling the lead down to three points with 7:16 left on a pair of Giliberto Clavell free throws.
Culpepper was 11-for-20 from the field, 2-for-6 from three-point range and 7-for-9 from the foul line while adding eight rebounds -- one shy of his career high. It marked the seventh time in his career that he scored 20 points in a half.
Julyan Stone came within two rebounds of the second triple-double in school history, collecting 12 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists. He had zero turnovers for the 20th time in his Miner career.
Christian Polk chipped in with 13 points for the Miners, who tied the school record for consecutive games shooting 42 percent or better to open a season (15). UTEP also hit at least 42 percent of its shots in the first 15 games of the 1968-69 and 1983-84 campaigns. The Miners connected on 54.7 percent of their field goal attempts Sunday, including 65.4 percent in the second half.
Clavell scored 15 of his 21 points in the second half for the Bearkats, who participated in last week's Sun Bowl Invitational and completed a 10-day stay in El Paso.