UTEP scored the game’s first 13 points and never looked back on the way to downing Big 10 member Nebraska, 68-52, to take home the title in the WestStar Bank Don Haskins Center Sun Bowl Invitational Sunday evening.
The Miners (6-5), who led the Cornhuskers (8-4) by 20 at the half (36-16), used an all-around effort to notch their first tournament crown since 2009 and 29th all time at the event.
Konner Tucker and Jacques Streeter each scored 17 points to lead the way for UTEP, which has won three straight and five of six to climb above the .500 mark the second time this season. The Miners, who were 1-0 after routing Oral Roberts, 69-49, in the season opener on Nov. 9, improve to 6-1 in El Paso this year.
UTEP connected on 47.2 percent from the floor (25-of-53), won the rebounding battle for the second straight game (36-32) and did a good job of varying its defense to keep the visitors from getting into a good flow on offense.
Nebraska, which shot a season-best 57 percent while producing its highest scoring output since 2009-10 in a 89-75 victory against Central Michigan to open the tournament, couldn’t find any sort of offensive flow against the Miners.
The Cornhuskers shot just 37.3 in the game (19-of-51), including a paltry 23.1 percent (6-26) during the dismal first half.
“This was our best game of the year,” UTEP assistant head coach Greg Foster said.”I thought John Bohannon was great with his 11 rebounds, and obviously Konner Tucker and Jacques Streeter had big games. Nebraska made some runs but we withstood them, and I’m very proud of our guys.”
Tucker was voted as the tournament MVP while Streeter landed on the all-tournament team and John Bohannon earned the Don Haskins Center award after scoring 24 points and grabbing 19 rebounds in the tournament. The honor goes to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of the late Don Haskins.
Ten different Miners scored in the game, with Streeter and Tucker being buoyed by Bohannon with seven points. Julian Washburn pitched in six while also grabbing four rebounds.
McKenzie Moore secured five boards, while Cedrick Lang and both Washburn brothers had four.
UTEP hit eight triples, one shy of its season-best nine, while taking good care of the ball with 12 assists compared to 11 turnovers. The Miners pounded the Cornhuskers in the paint, 30-18, and enjoyed a 17-7 cushion in points from the bench.
Tucker helped UTEP set the tone early, scoring eight points and assisting on a Streeter triple during the aforementioned 13-0 run at the onset of the contest. The Cornhuskers finally got on the board with a lay-up from Mike Peltz with 13:33 to play in the first half but it was immediately answered from a lay-up by Chris Washburn.
Nebraska continued to battle as the half wore on, whittling the deficit down to single digits on a couple of occasions. UTEP had an answer every time, though, and it closed the period on a 14-3 run to secure the 20-point advantage at the break.
It was more of the same in the second stanza, with the Cornhuskers unable to ever truly get back into the game. The Miners never let them get within single digits, putting it on cruise control down the stretch.
UTEP will take a holiday break before wrapping up a season-long seven-game homestand with an exhibition contest against Cameron at 8 p.m. MST on Dec. 28. UTEP will then close out non-conference play at Colorado State (8 p.m. MST, Jan. 2).