Cougars fall into Miners’ shaft
With Conference USA frontrunners Tulsa and Memphis having already won earlier on Wednesday night, the Cougars needed to make a statement against an explosive UTEP team that was tied atop the standings before the game began.
UTEP was led by junior guard and Louisville transfer Derrick Caracter’s 22 points (15 in second half) and 13 rebounds as the Miners stayed hot, claiming a tight 65-58 decision over the Cougars at the Don Haskins Center in El Paso.
“They (UTEP) closed within four so that pretty much was the turning point of the game even though we came out pretty good in the second half and we were right there,” head coach Tom Penders said. “When you play on the road in extremely hostile environment like that bunch (UTEP fans), you got to try and take the crowd out of it.”
The Cougars (11-10, 4-4 C-USA) were led by senior guard Aubrey Coleman, who finished with 23 points. Senior guard Kelvin Lewis chipped in 16 points to go along with eight rebounds and three assists.
The Miners extended their lead largest lead of the game to six on two occasions, going up 45-39 and later 51-45 with about seven minutes left in the second half. Houston kept it close, cutting the Miners lead to 55-54 as Coleman drilled a straight away 3-pointer with 3:30 remaining.
Coleman stayed hot in the second half, hitting a high-arching jump shot off the backboard to put the Cougars within 61-58. Coleman’s bucket gave him 23 points with 1:30 left in the game.
Houston got a rebound off a Miners timeout and with it being only a one-possession game, the Cougars called timeout. The Miners (18-4, 7-1) doubled Coleman on the perimeter on the play out of the timeout as the shot clock ticked down, causing Washington to shoot up a ill-advised 3-pointer off the Coleman pass that went begging as the Miners picked up the rebound.
“He stepped out and he was open. I’ve never seen him take a three in practice; it wasn’t a designed play,” Penders said.
Two made free throws by the Miners’ Jeremy Williams after a Washington foul put the game away as Coleman and Lewis air-balled two 3-pointers on the Cougars’ final two possessions. Williams knocked down two more free throws to ice the UTEP win over the Cougars and increase their win streak to five games.
“The conference in my opinion is going to be a one-bid league (for the NCAA Tournament) … whoever wins the conference tournament is going to the tournament (NCAA),” Penders said. “When the season started, if you told me we were going to split with UTEP, I’ll take that.”
Houston jumped out to a 8-0 lead during the first 1:46 of the game with Lewis knocking down two quick 3-pointers to go with Coleman’s steal taken in for a layup, leading to a quick UTEP timeout.
Houston seemed comfortable and stayed hot in the first half, extending its lead to 10 after a Lewis jumper. The Cougars’ lead blew up to a 30-16, their largest of the game.
But Houston missed its last six shots of the first half as the 14-point lead quickly disappeared. Lewis led the way in the first half for the Cougars with 11 points, including three 3-pointers while Coleman chipped in with 10 points to go along with three steals.