CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS – Hooper Vint and Terry Winn established career-highs with 18 and 15 points respectively, leading UTEP to a 71-66 victory over Southern Illinois Friday and a berth in the Corpus Christi Coastal Classic championship game.
The Miners, who are 5-0 for the first time in six years, will face either Colorado State or Portland on Saturday at 3 p.m. MT. The game will be televised on the American Sports Network and KFOX-TV in El Paso.
Southern Illinois lost for the first time in six games as UTEP rallied from a three-point deficit in the final two minutes.
“We did some nice things,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “It was our first real test against a good club. This is a good Southern Illinois team and we are real pleased with the win.”
The Miners survived on a day when Dominic Artis was in foul trouble, played only 20 minutes and had no assists. They held Saluki star Anthony Beane to nine points, 14 below his season average, on 4-for-12 shooting.
“We got great effort from a lot of people tonight,” Floyd said. “Earvin Morris and Jake Flaggert did a good job on a terrific guard and took Beane out of the game in terms of only getting nine points. I thought we had a great understanding in a tight game of not fouling and in turn getting ourself to the line.”
The Miners finished 24-for-38 at the stripe to Southern Illinois’ 9-for-9.
The first half featured five ties and eight lead changes. Flaggert gave the Miners a bit of breathing room when he nailed a three-pointer right before the buzzer sounded. That sent UTEP to the locker room leading 34-30.
The Miners built a nine-point lead (56-47), their largest of the game, with under 10 minutes remaining but couldn’t shake the Salukis. Southern Illinois went on a 12-2 run and regained the lead, 64-62, on a layup by Sean O’Brien with 3:02 to play. O’Brien had game-highs with 25 points and 11 rebounds.
After Lee Moore split two free throws, O’Brien scored again at the 2:23 mark to increase the Salukis’ advantage to three (66-63).
That turned out to be Southern Illinois’ final points of the game as the Miners pitched a shutout the rest of the way. Winn scored the next four points – off a layup and two free throws – to push UTEP back ahead 67-66. The Salukis scored on the other end to apparently go up 68-67, but following an official review it was determined that the basket came after the shot clock ran out.
Earvin Morris scored with 42 seconds left for a 69-66 UTEP lead and, after SIU’s Austin Weiher missed a three, Vint closed it out on two free throws with 18 seconds remaining.
“We played with a great deal of poise with Lee Moore at the point when Dominic Artis was out of the game for significant periods of time,” Floyd said. “I thought he did a great job of getting us into play. Terry Winn and Hooper Vint were outstanding, both on the glass and offensively. I thought we played really unselfish. And we got quality minutes from a lot of guys on our team tonight.”
Moore dished out a game-high seven assists and Trey Touchet turned in an error-free performance over nine minutes, helping the Miners weather the storm with their starting point guard on the bench.
“We were able to get into play offensively and defensively,” Floyd said. “Dominic is such a dynamic guard, but we needed it. It was a really good lesson for us to draw back on in the future in terms of how we’re going to play without him in the game.”
Winn scored in double figures for the second straight game while adding 10 rebounds for his first career double-double. He has gone to the line 20 times in the last two games, including 10 more on Friday.
“He was a guy that was determined to go rebound it,” Floyd said. “We’ve said it for years, the guys that rebound it end up scoring and helping in other areas. I thought he did a nice job late switching out to Beane. We had a couple of situations where we deviated from our attack and switched. I thought overall his concentration was good. He’s a young player. This is his third college game. And he is getting better.”
As for Vint, he is 5-for-5 scoring in double figures this season and also picked up a career-best nine rebounds for the second straight game on Friday.
“It’s just really a big deal for that kid,” Floyd said. “He has played sparingly over four years. He has been patient. He is what the college experience should be about. Staying here, persevering, not transferring, continuing to work, trying to get better, graduating, and he’s making great strides as a basketball player right now and we’re really proud of him.”
Colorado State and Portland squared off on Friday night for the right to challenge the Miners for a championship.
“It will be a good game for us,” Floyd said. “You schedule these tournaments because your conference tournament becomes this, where you have to play back-to-back nights. We did it a week ago, and we didn’t do it very well. We played a good half [against Florida A&M], we didn’t play a good second half when we had to follow up on back-to-back nights. So I hope that we can have a good film session tonight after this ballgame, a good breakfast tomorrow morning, and talk about who our opponent is and see if we can get some things into the game off the chalkboard.
“It’s a good group. I think they’re resilient. We had chances to lose this game tonight. I’m just glad that we didn’t and we’re learning how to win.” ?