POSTED: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - 11:44pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - 1:18am
Michael Perez scored 13 of his career-high 18 points in the second half, and UTEP gave Oregon all it could handle before falling 64-59 on Tuesday at Matthew Knight Arena.
The Miners (1-4), heavy underdogs to the Ducks (4-1), hung around all night and trailed just 60-59 after Malcolm Moore hit a couple of free throws with 34 seconds to play. But Oregon scored the game’s final four points on a dunk by Olu Ashaolu with 0:22 left and a pair of foul shots by Garrett Sim with nine seconds to go.
After the teams battled to a 23-23 tie at the half, Oregon buried three three-pointers in the first four minutes of the second half in surging to a 35-26 lead. The Ducks kept the Miners at arm’s length until Perez’s three-point play drew UTEP to within one (56-55) with 1:38 to go.
The Ducks had the answer for every UTEP bucket down the stretch, and the Miners couldn’t take the lead despite closing the gap to a point three times in the final two minutes.
“I’m really extremely proud of our team. We saw great, great growth tonight in so many areas,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We played with poise, and we defended exceedingly well. I thought we played harder than we did in all three previous games combined. I thought we played with a purpose offensively in that we didn’t shoot bad shots. That had not been the case.”
The Miners shot 59.3 percent from the field in the second half and 49.1 percent on the night. They also outrebounded the Ducks 31-29.
Oregon received a breakout game from Johnathan Loyd, who hit six three pointers and scored a career-high 24 points.
“I thought we tried to rebound both boards and I thought we tried to guard,” Floyd said. “A kid who had not shot the ball well for Oregon [Loyd] made shots tonight. But we took key players out of the game, which is a big part of what we try to do with [Brett] Kingma, Sims and [E.J.] Singler. I thought our big guys filled the lane. I thought we did a lot of great things tonight. I saw a team that’s trying to grow and get better.”
The Miners received an emotional lift from the return of senior Gabe McCulley, who played 24 minutes. McCulley finished with two assists, two steals and a rebound, but his presence was duly noted.
“Emotionally Gabe gives us great effort, he gives us a guy who has been there and he gives us poise,” Floyd said. “He gives us experience, and that’s something that’s hard to buy. I think our younger guys said maybe we’ve got a chance because we have an older guy out there. I thought Gabe played very well with the limited minutes he had.”
In the end, an inability to make foul shots did in the Miners. After shooting nearly 75 percent from the charity stripe in their previous three games, they were 6-for-16 on Tuesday to the Ducks’ 15-for-18.
“Coaches talk so much about turnovers, and turnovers are certainly big. You have 12 turnovers in the game, you figure opponents are going to score on 40 percent of those and that may equate to 10 points,” Floyd said. “But coaches often don’t talk enough about the free throw line where we missed 10 tonight. If we make 75 percent of those free throws, we win this basketball game. And that’s something players can get better on, should get better on and we’ll continue to work on.”
John Bohannon scored 13 points for the Miners, who will take a break for finals before hosting I-10 rival NM State on Sunday, Dec. 11 at 3 p.m. in the Haskins Center.
“I think these next 10 or 11 days are really going to help us as we move forward into the New Mexico State game,” Floyd said. “It’s a fun group to work with and I want to encourage our fans to continue to come out and really come out for this Aggie game when we retire Nolan Richardson’s jersey, because they deserve it right now.”