Courtesy: UTEP Athletics

EL PASO, TEXAS – Shaquille Harrison scored 13 of his team-high 15 points in the second half as Tulsa won at UTEP for the second year in a row, 65-60 on Thursday night.

The Golden Hurricane (16-12, 11-3 C-USA) vaulted into a tie for first place in the Conference USA standings, dropping the Miners (20-9, 10-4 C-USA) into fifth place with two league games remaining. UTEP is still just a game behind the C-USA leaders – Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, Southern Miss and Tulsa – and very much in the thick of the race for a double bye in the conference tournament March 11-15 in El Paso.

The Miners will close out the regular season at North Texas on Sunday (1 p.m.) and UTSA next Thursday (6 p.m.).  The North Texas game will be televised on the Time Warner Texas Channel. 

On Thursday, the Miners simply couldn’t get stops when they needed them down the stretch.  Tulsa repeatedly got to the basket for layups or free throw attempts.  The Golden Hurricane also converted 17 UTEP turnovers into 16 points, and turned 13 offensive rebounds into 13 second chance points.

“Tulsa just beat us,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said.  “I thought we had some real mistakes that we haven’t been making, just critical plays.  Two turnovers late in the open floor with a two-point game.  Once in the open floor, we got a palming violation.  The other time we fouled a three-point shooter in a tie game late.  A couple of times we didn’t rebound a missed free throw on their end and they were able to get back and convert.  Just too many turnovers for us.”

Anytime the Miners built some momentum, the Golden Hurricane seized it away.  UTEP fell behind 17-10 midway through the first half.  The Miners rallied to tie it at 22 with 3:54 remaining.  Tulsa closed the half with an 8-2 run to go into the locker room up 30-24.

UTEP got down by 8 points (36-28) in the first three minutes of the second half.  The Miners went on an 11-2 run and took the lead, 39-38, on a layup by John Bohannon with 12:50 to go.  Tulsa scored the next four points.

UTEP regained the lead, 46-45, on a Bohannon layup with 7:41 left.  Vince Hunter fouled Stevie Repichowski on a three-point attempt 18 seconds later.  He made all three foul shots and the Miners were chasing again.

The Miners knotted the score, 48-48, on two free throws by Hunter with 6:05 on the clock.  Tulsa scored the next six points.

UTEP pulled within three points three times in the final minute and a half.  Tulsa answered with a layup, two free throws and another layup.

Bohannon was 0-for-6 from the field in the first half.  He scored 20 of the Miners’ 36 points in the second half, shooting 5-for-8 from the floor and 10-for-10 from the line.

He didn’t get much support over the last 20 minutes, however, as Julian Washburn added eight points and no other Miner had more than two,

Washburn finished with 14 points and Hunter had 12.  C.J. Cooper scored six points on 2-for-9 shooting.  He was 0-for-5 from three-point range as the Miners finished 0-for-8 from beyond the arc. UTEP had made a three pointer in 68 consecutive games.       

“They did a nice job on C.J. tonight,” Floyd said.  “I think you have to give them credit defensively for inflicting some of our pain tonight.  We had improved play from Bohannon in the second half.  We didn’t get much at all from our bigs in the first half.  And I think you credit their defense as well.”

Tulsa outscored UTEP 16-11 in points off turnovers and 10-6 in fast break points.  The Miners hadn’t allowed more than seven fast break opponents to any C-USA team this season.

UTEP finished 5-3 in C-USA regular season home games.

James Woodard scored 13 points and Rashad Smith had 11 for Tulsa, which has won six in a row.

“You can’t make the mistakes that we made offensively,” Floyd said.  “We turned it over too much.  We didn’t get to the foul line the first half.  We shot five free throws.  A lot of it was unforced turnovers on our part.  Our bigs did not play physical in the first half.  I thought Bo had a nice game in the second half. 

“We’ve got to have improved guard play.  That is what has carried us.  Those guys have now played a lot of minutes. I think you have to credit opponents for how they’re defending us.  We don’t have a lot of depth on the perimeter.  Our guys are trying hard.  I thought we competed hard.  The thirteen offensive rebounds that they had was a real problem for us.  They had a lot of second chance opportunities.”

Now the Miners will tackle a North Texas team that has won four games in a row.

“It won’t be easy over at their place. None of them are,” Floyd said.  “There’s still a lot of basketball to be played.  We’d certainly love to figure out a way to get in that equation where we’re playing three games instead of four in the conference tournament.”

--Jeff Darby