UTEP Shocks Clemson, 61-48, in Opening Round of Diamond Head Classic
Dec. 22, 2011
UTEP outscored Clemson 23-8 in the final 13 minutes, holding the Tigers to one field goal during that span, on its way to a 61-48 upset of the Tigers in the opening round of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic on Thursday.
The Miners (5-5) scored their first win over an ACC opponent since knocking off Maryland, 69-51, on Dec. 30, 1988 at the Don Haskins Center. UTEP moved to 10-5 all-time versus ACC schools.
It was a heck of an effort from a UTEP team that lost second-leading scorer Julian Washburn to a shoulder injury midway through the first half, and was without leading scorer Gabriel McCulley for long stretches in the second half. McCulley had three fouls at halftime and played only six minutes in the second period.
Minus two players who combined to average over 24 points per game coming in, the Miners received major contributions from Michael Perez and C.J. Cooper in the second half. Perez scored 16 of his career-high 25 points in the final 20 minutes, and Cooper scored all of his career-best 11 points after the break.
"Our thin team has gotten thinner," UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. "It looks like we've lost Hooper Vint for the year. They're saying that we'll probably do surgery on his back. Malcolm Moore will have ACL surgery when we get back on the 2nd [of January], and now Julian Washburn is out with an AC sprain in his shoulder. We don't know how long that's going to be."
UTEP led for most of the first half until Clemson (6-5) rallied to even the score at 24 at the half. The Tigers capped an 11-0 run with a Milton Jennings jumper to take their largest lead of the game, 29-24, with 18:52 to play. Jacques Streeter (seven points/seven assists) answered with a three pointer, and Cooper's first triple of the game pulled the Miners to within 31-30 with 17 minutes left.
The game was nip-and-tuck until Perez's three-point play with 12:49 to go put the Miners ahead 41-40, and started a 13-2 run that ended with UTEP up 51-42 and 6:57 on the clock.
Clemson, which had zero players in double figure scoring, couldn't get closer than eight points the rest of the way. The Tigers' 48 points were a tournament record low.
"It was just such a terrific win for our team without Julian and without those other two guys," Floyd said. We're not ordinarily a junk [defense] team, but we're having to play it to protect our big guys from foul trouble. We're down to three guys and we were able to buy some minutes out of it. I don't know how long we're going to be able to do that, but it gives our guys some confidence. They needed a significant win and that was a great win for us."
Clemson shot 30 percent from the field. The Tigers' top two scorers, Andre Young and Devin Booker, were a combined 3-for-18 from the floor including 0-for-9 in the second half.
"It was probably our best defensive effort of the year," Floyd said. "We got a lot of mileage out of Jacques Streeter. He held their leading scorer Young to a field goal, which was really terrific. And Mike Perez, early in the game, did a nice job on Tanner Smith who is a terrific player. I thought overall our big guys did a great job on Booker."
The Miners got off to a slow start, committing 12 of their 16 turnovers in the first half and scoring three points in the first six-plus minutes.
"We kept trying to explain to our guys that Clemson is such a great defensive team that there just weren't going to be any avenues to drive it in the middle of the lane with their bigs," Floyd said. "And it took us about 30 minutes to figure it out."
UTEP scored 37 points in the second half and shot 51.2 percent on the day. The Miners also shot well at the line for a third straight game, making 10-of-12 attempts (.833).
The Miners will face Kansas State in the tournament semifinals on Friday at 3 p.m. MT. The game will be televised on ESPNU.