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A Bizarre Night in Greenville

Photo by Steve Kaplowitz

By now, everybody knows that UTEP lost last night to East Carolina 73-67. What some might not realize is that the Miners played the final 18+ minutes without head coach Tim Floyd and his top assistant, Phil Johnson.I’ve spoken with various people who were at the game in Greenville, North Carolina. Here are the series of events that led to both ejections. Early in the second half, referee Jeb Hartness warned Floyd that he was out of the coach’s box. Hartness, a C-USA referee who had never worked a UTEP game all season, observed that the Miners head coach had two toes outside the coach’s box. When Floyd was told he was receiving a warning for the infraction, he turned his back on the official and started walking down the UTEP bench and removed his sports coat. Hartness interpreted that action as taunting, and blew his whistle signaling a technical on Floyd. It was at this point, the UTEP head coach went crazy and had to restrained by one of Greenville’s finest. There has been a report that Floyd might have bumped the referee during all the commotion, which could result in a reprimand or suspension.

While Floyd was being escorted out of the arena, his top assistant, Phil Johnson gathered his team around him and began firing them up. One of the officials overheard the language being used in the UTEP huddle and thought it was being directed at him. In a matter of seconds, Johnson was whistled for two technicals and also was ejected from the game. The Miners were left with no assistant coaches on the bench with any game management experience. Greg Foster, UTEP’s student assistant became the team’s bench coach for the final 18:48 of the game. Without Floyd and Johnson, the Miners reverted to a team that resembled the streetball strategy of the Tony Barbee era. They forced shots, played little defense, and had no discipline. Despite the bizarre situation, they still cut the East Carolina lead to 4 late in the game. That was as close as UTEP was going to get.

I have no problem with Floyd’s ejection, although I do think referee Hartness had an agenda against the UTEP head coach. My big problem was with Johnson, who cannot allow himself to get removed from the game. He is invaluableto the Miners as a bench coach, and his departure doomed his team for almost an entire half. I heard Johnson apologized to the Miners on the team bus after the game. His apology was warranted, but will not replace the teeam’s third loss in their last four games. Despite their poor play in recent weeks, the Miners have their biggest conference game of the season on Saturday afternoon agaainst Memphis. A win over the Tigers would make both teams 9-5 in conference play, but give UTEP the tiebreaker. I hope the Don is packed Saturday afternoon, and the Miners play their most inspired game of the season…even though their head coach might not be on the bench.

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