Second half rally propels UTEP to win over Rice

KTSM
UTEP
Sunday, February 2, 2014 - 12:03am

C.J. Cooper scored all 17 of his points in the second half, and UTEP closed the game with a 30-10 run to top Rice, 68-57, on Saturday night in the Don Haskins Center.

The Miners (16-6, 6-1 C-USA) shot 30.8 percent in the first half and trailed by nine (47-38) with under 10 minutes remaining before righting the ship to secure their sixth straight win.

“I don’t want to sit here and start talking about how we were flat or we were this or we were that,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “I prefer to talk about Rice and what a great job their coach does with that team to come in here and play with that kind of poise on the road in front of our crowd, which I thought was outstanding. They just did a phenomenal job.”

Rice (6-15, 1-7 C-USA) certainly didn’t look like a team that had lost nine of its previous 10 games. The Owls didn’t trail until 6:03 remaining, when Cooper converted a four-point play – the Miners’ first of the season – to put his team ahead 51-49.

Rice tied the game at 51 on two free throws by Max Guercy with 5:44 to go. UTEP scored the next 11 points – including threes by Cooper and Jake Flaggert – to power ahead 62-51.

The Owls scored two field goals in the final 9:42 after Seth Gearhart nailed a three to put Rice ahead 47-38 and tie its largest lead of the game. Rice had no field goals in an eight-minute stretch until 11 seconds left, when Marcus Jackson’s three pointer completed the scoring.

“Our athleticism and our will to defend the first four minutes of the second half and the last 10 minutes of the ballgame were the keys to the game for us,” Floyd said. “I’m real proud of Julian [Washburn] again. We were having problems with dribble penetration from Guercy, the little guy. So we had 6-8 guarding 5-6 and it’s an impossible matchup, but he pulls it off every night.”

Washburn tallied 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists in 39 minutes while hounding Guercy, who finished with 11 points on 3-for-11 shooting. Vince Hunter scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half for UTEP, which outscored Rice 47-27 over the final 20 minutes.

Cooper was once again on the floor for the full 40 minutes, shooting 4-for-9 from the field, 3-for-7 from outside and 6-for-8 from the charity stripe. Flaggert was a big factor in the second half as well with two three pointers. His first, with 7:37 remaining, pulled the Miners to within three points (49-46).

“C.J. knocked down a couple of big shots,” Floyd said. “Vince got it going the last 11 minutes of the game. He rebounded, had a couple of deep post ups and did a nice job. Jake Flaggert played with a lot of poise for a young kid who has not been in many of those situations where we’re down and trying to come back.”

The Miners were outrebounded 23-15 in the first half. They won the battle of the boards, 21-11, in the second period.

“Obviously a key stat in the game,” Floyd said.

The Miners received a major assist from a crowd of 11,036, their second-largest of the season. The fans came alive early in the second half when the Miners scored nine straight points to knot the game at 30, and again during the game-changing run.

Cooper extended his career-long streak of double figure scoring games to five.

“He’s playing a good floor game. He’s not turning the ball over,” Floyd said. “A lot of his points came from kicks inside out, where early in the year he was shooting dribble threes which is the toughest shot in the game. He’s shooting shots in rhythm now. He can really shoot it. We were just perplexed with why he struggled for the first 15 games of the year. But it’s so good to see him back to playing at the level he finished last year.”

The Miners remained in a tie for first place in C-USA with Southern Miss. UTEP will be on the road for six of its final nine league games, starting on Thursday at East Carolina (7 p.m. MT). The game will be televised on Fox Sports 1.

“We’re still growing,” Floyd said. “This is like a brand new team. Being down tonight, maybe that will serve us well somewhere else down the road. In fact, we learned that you get back into it by defending. We held them to 29 percent in the second half. We’ll refer to that the next time that we’re down, and we’ll have a memory bank with that lineup that was in there competing late.”
 

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