About three weeks ago, the Miners were blown out at NM State (95-70). Only two weeks ago, and in a similar fashion, DePaul downed UTEP (91-70). And on Thursday night against a Kent State team that's better than the Aggies and Blue Demons, UTEP fought in a wire-to-wire matchup and lost to the Golden Flashes in the championship game of the WestStar Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational (47-46).

They did it without arguably their best scorer in the backcourt in Mario McKinney Jr., who was out due to a hamstring injury.

The loss brought frustration mixed with hope for the Miners.

"We had the game where we wanted to and we didn't execute down the stretch," said UTEP head coach Joe Golding. "I thought we were the tougher team tonight. We just ran out of time."

"I'll lose a game if our guys fight like that. that's not New Mexico State... That's not DePaul... We fought hard."

They competed against one of the best teams out of the MAC and all of the mid-major hoops in Kent State.

How it happened 

With 18 seconds left in the game, the Miners trailed by a point and needed to draw up a winning play. Following a Malique Jacobs block on Tae Hardy in the previous possession, the Miners fouled Kent State's Sincere Carry, who made the go-ahead free throws with 18 seconds left. Shamar Givance, who had been shining all tournament, drove up against Voncameron Davis, drew contact and was blocked, ending the game.

Subsequently, head coach Joe Golding went to the officiating crew furiously. It was too late. The game was over and Kent State won, 47-46. UTEP felt Givance deserved free throws. Instead, Kent State took home the WestStar Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational, making Golding 0-2 in the championship round of the invitational to start his tenure here.

The Miners led for 14 minutes in the first half, yet the Golden Flashes stole the first half lead, 25-22, going into the break. Kent State capitalized on 12 forced turnovers and scored 12 points off the Miners' mistakes in the first half.

The turnovers continued in the second, as the Miners totaled seven turnovers in the first eight minutes of the second half. Despite the mistakes, they played themselves back into the contest and regained the lead at the 6:21 mark off a Ze'Rik Onyema dunk.

Both teams exchanged 17 lead changes and the game was tied eight times during the contest.

Forward Kevin Kalu made a key put-back to lift the Miners to a 46-45 lead with under a minute to play. The Miners held defensively on the next possession, however, Hardy's blocked shot on UTEP's following possession allowed the Golden Flashes to draw the foul and hit the eventual game-winning free throws.

Photo by Ruben R. Ramirez
Photo by Ruben R. Ramirez

All Tournament Team 

  • Demetric Horton (North Carolina A&T)
  • Xavier Pinson (NM State)
  • Shamar Givance (UTEP)
  • Miryne Thomas (Kent State)

Don Haskins Award: Tae Hardy 

Barry Kobren MVP Award: Sincere Carry 

Miners are among the worst in minutes continuity 

In today's day of transfer portal-NIL college basketball, the stat of minutes continuity is an interesting one to look at with teams. The stat on KenPom determines what percentage of a team’s minutes are played by the same player from last season to this season. Per KenPom, the national average is around 50%.

UTEP is No. 333 (out of 363) with 16.1% in minutes continuity, well below the national average.

This is a brand new team that needs to be in tight games like this in order to develop cohesion ahead of C-USA play.

C-USA outlook features high caliber squads 

Speaking of C-USA, the Miners are in for a gauntlet of a conference. Three teams—Florida Atlantic, UAB and North Texas—have already won 10 or more games. The second tier of Middle Tennessee (8-4), Western Kentucky (8-3) and Charlotte (9-3) are all tough in their own ways. Rice (9-3) and LA Tech (7-5) are both solid and have proven they will give any team a tough game (cough, Owls going to OT at Texas).

So where does UTEP (8-4) fit in?

Although they dropped three of their last five games in non-conference play (not counting Northern New Mexico), the Miners have proven they can hang with the best of teams. They will face the league's toughest team on the road Thursday, Dec. 29, at UAB. Then, they will host Rice on Saturday, Dec. 31.

Next week will tell us more about where the Miners stand among the rest of the conference.

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