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Watch UTEP Handle Tennessee in Battle 4 Atlantis

Courtesy: UTEP Athletics

(PARADISE ISLAND, BAHAMAS) – UTEP closed the first half with a 16-7 run to take control of the game, and withstood a late rally by Tennessee to stun the Volunteers, 78-70, in round one of the Battle 4 Atlantis late Thursday night in the Bahamas.

The Miners (4-2) moved on to the semifinals and will take on unbeaten and 23rd-ranked Iowa (6-0) at 5 p.m. MT (7 p.m. ET) Friday.  The game will be nationally televised on NBC Sports Network.

“It was a real good win for us,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said.  “Our guys had three great days of practice.  We played like our loss to NM State [on Nov. 23] bothered us, and it should’ve bothered us.”

UTEP jumped out to a 19-12 lead in the first 12 minutes, before the Vols (3-2) went on a 9-1 run to surge in front 21-20.  The Miners took the lead for good, 22-21, on a jumper by Julian Washburn with 4:37 remaining in the period.

That started the 16-7 spurt, and UTEP went into the half leading 36-28.  The Miners took their biggest lead of 15 points (60-45) on a driving layup by McKenzie Moore with 6:46 to go.

UTEP maintained a double-digit cushion until things got sloppy in the last few minutes.  Tennessee started pressing and the Miners repeatedly turned the ball over, allowing the Vols to creep within six points (67-61) on two free throws by Jordan McRae with 2:35 to go.

The Miners’ Justin Crosgile buried a huge three pointer at the 2:21 mark, however, and UTEP reinstated a double-digit lead on two free throws by Moore with 1:22 remaining.  The final margin was as close as Tennessee could get in the final minute.

UTEP shot 58 percent led by Moore, who scored 12 of his 19 points in the second half.  John Bohannon scored 16, while Washburn and Crosgile contributed 12 each.

The Miners were outrebounded 46-28, including 26-6 on the offensive glass.  Tennessee outscored UTEP 25-12 in second chance points.  But the Miners outscored the Vols 23-13 in points off turnovers and made 17-of-26 free throws while Tennessee missed 16-of-39 foul shots.

The Vols’ leading scorer, McRae, had to work for his 22 points, shooting 6-of-17 from the field and 1-of-8 from three-point territory.  Coach Floyd was pleased with the Miners’ defensive effort while working in several schemes.

“Julian did a great job on things that won’t show up on the stat sheet like getting back on defense, which he had not done a very good job of for four or five games,” he said.  “I think he understands how important that is because we didn’t give up any transition layups or baskets.  He was great at his assignment and job.  I thought the job McKenzie did on McRae was a real key.  He didn’t allow many catches.  The kid is a hell of a player and he kind of nullified what he was doing.”

The Vols shot 28 percent in the first half and 34.9 percent for the game, while making just 3-of-21 three point tries.

“We played basically three different defenses tonight and kept mixing it up because we had so much respect for Tennessee,” Floyd said.  “They are such a rhythm team.  But the biggest key was our ability to get back and take away the easy baskets.  We played man-to-man with some denial, and box-and-one with some denial, and triangle-and-two with some denial.”

Now it’s on to the Hawkeyes, who outlasted Xavier in overtime, 77-74, on Wednesday night behind Roy Devyn Marble’s 30 points.

“They get great players and great fan support,” Floyd said of Iowa.  “Their coach is a seasoned coach who has done a great job wherever he’s been.  It looked to me like they pass the ball very well and catch the ball very well.  They get steady, solid point guard play and Marble makes shots.  [Adam] Woodbury is a big name coming out of high school.

“I got a chance to watch [against Xavier] just a little bit.  They ran a little press, so our guys might see a little press based on our inadequacies against the old press tonight.  We looked like a snappy junior high group there the last seven or eight minutes of the game against their press.  But we’ll have a walk through tomorrow and hopefully get it a little better.”

–Jeff Darby

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