Miners Edge Louisiana Tech in Nail-Biter, 71-68
UTEP built a 12-point lead with five minutes to go, then held off a feverish Louisiana Tech rally and beat the Bulldogs, 71-68, on Saturday night at the Don Haskins Center.
The Miners reached the midway point of the conference schedule with a 6-3 record, a game behind league leaders Hawaii and Rice. UTEP is 15-4 overall. Louisiana Tech dropped to 10-9 overall and 4-5 in WAC play.
"We didn't play one of our better games," said UTEP coach Billy Gillispie. "But give them credit for not letting us play one of our better games."
There were 10 ties and 11 lead changes in Saturday's game. UTEP went ahead for good at 50-48 on a jumper by John Tofi with 10:55 remaining.
Both teams were missing their top players in the final minutes. Louisiana Tech's Paul Millsap, the nation's leading rebounder, fouled out with 5:41 to play. Omar Thomas, the Miners' leading scorer, picked up his fifth foul 14 seconds later.
The Miners led 63-52 when Thomas went to the bench, but were outscored 16-6 over the next four and a half minutes.
A dunk by Corey Dean drew the Bulldogs to within 69-68 with 14 seconds left. UTEP's Filiberto Rivera made a pair of free throws with eight seconds to go, and Donell Allick misfired on a potential game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer.
"We made free throws at the end, and we got a couple of stops at the end," Gillispie said. "We had everything go against us that could have gone against us, but we found a way to win."
Five Miners scored in double figures, as Giovanni St. Amant scored a season-high 14 points. Thomas added 13 points, Tofi 12, Rivera 10 and Roy Smallwood 10 as UTEP improved to 8-0 when five or more players score in double figures.
Tofi also had a career-high four steals. JueMichael Young scored 17 points and Allick 14 for Louisiana Tech. Millsap finished with 10 points and nine boards in 29 minutes.
UTEP survived despite shooting 39 percent -- its third-lowest figure of the season -- and making just four of 16 three-point attempts. The Miners were 27 for 33 from the line, including 19 for 22 in the second half.
A sellout crowd of 12,000 -- UTEP's fourth capacity crowd of the season -- watched the Miners improve to 12-1 in the Haskins Center in 2003-04.
UTEP will continue its four-game homestand by taking on Rice (Thursday) and Tulsa (Saturday) next week.
"We're better than we were at the start [of the season]," Gillispie said. "It has been a heck of a run so far. We've taken it one game at a time, and that's what we'll continue to do. I think we're way ahead of schedule, to be honest."