Southern Miss 74 – UTEP 66: Miners Blow Seven-Point Lead in Final Minute, Fall in C-USA Opener
With just 45 seconds left in the C-USA opener, the Miners held a comfortable 60-53 lead over Southern Miss.
Rodney Terry and his squad had a chance to win in Hattiesburg, Miss. for the first time in over a decade.
But the Golden Eagles came back from the ashes during the final seconds, going on a 7-0 run to close out the regulation and send the game into overtime. Then, Southern Miss proceeded to outscore UTEP 14-6 in extra time, stealing the 74-66 win in overtime.
Southern Miss closed out the final 5:45 on a 21-6 drubbing against the Miners. UTEP turned the ball over six times during the same stretch, including two costly turnovers in the final 40 seconds to allow the Golden Eagles to tie the game.
And even though the Miners have to regroup less than 24 hours until they tip-off against the Golden Eagles for their second game of the series, this loss will surely sting.
"We set the tone in the second half and they out-hustled us on some 50-50 balls in the first half," Rodney Terry said. "We were in position to win the ball game. We should've closed that game at the free throw line. A tough one to lose on the road."
UTEP's first half was filled with shooting troubles. The team started the half sluggish, seeing the Golden Eagles jump out to an early 6-2 lead. Kristian Sjolund gave UTEP an early 7-6 lead at the 13:26 mark of the first half, but the Miners' inability to convert off turnovers hurt them the most. They forced four turnovers in the first nine minutes but shot just 3-of-11 to start.
The Miners even had a chance to break away in the first half. They led by as much as five at the 9:40 point, fresh on a 6-0 run. Southern Miss would then close out the half on a 20-10 run, including a span in the final five minutes of the half in which they held UTEP scoreless for over three minutes and built a 8-0 run.
Only Souley Boum scored nine points in the first half and no other Miner had over four points. Bryson Williams went scoreless in the first half, going 0-for-4 shooting and turned the ball over. Having only made 9-of-32 from the floor in the first half, the Miners needed some major halftime offensive adjustments.
Out of the second half, UTEP marched back into the game and proved that they could hang in with the Golden Eagles. At the 10:38 mark, they broke away when Kristian Sjolund led the Miners on a 5-0 run off the bench, as they held a 41-39 lead. UTEP broke away on a 6-0 run with just 2:05 left in the game, leading 58-51. They built upon that lead and led by seven, 60-53, before the Golden Eagles came from behind and stole this one.
Boum led the team with 19 points (5-of-17 FG) and six rebounds over 45 minutes of action. Point guard Jamal Bieniemy scored 18 points on 9-of-15 shooting with seven assists. Williams had one of his worst games of his UTEP career, shooting just 2-of-9 from the floor with seven points and nine rebounds, as he fouled out in this game. Kristian Sjolund emerged off the bench with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting for the team.
The Miners followed up their poor shooting first half by shooting 48 percent in the second half. Still, UTEP shot just 36 percent from the floor and 22 percent from 3-point range.
Next up: UTEP will complete their back-to-back series with Southern Miss on Saturday, Jan. 2, with the tipoff slated for 3 p.m. The game can be heard on 600 ESPN El Paso and will be televised on ESPN+. UTEP will return home next week to host Rice for their conference home opener.