Oklahoma scored the game’s first 15 points, built a 20-point second half lead, then withstood a furious rally by UTEP to edge the Miners, 68-61, in the quarterfinals of the Old Spice Classic on Thursday night.
A 16-4 run by UTEP (1-2) trimmed a 60-44 deficit to 64-60 with 1:44 remaining. But the Sooners’ Steven Pledger hit a three pointer with 1:03 to play to end the comeback bid, and Oklahoma moved to 3-0 on the young season.
The Miners will face the loser of the Clemson-Gonzaga game on Friday at 3:30 p.m. MT/5:30 p.m. ET. The game will be televised on ESPN2.
UTEP didn’t do much of anything right in a horrific first five minutes. At the first media timeout, the Miners trailed 13-0, and they didn’t crack the scoreboard until 14:48 remaining in the half, when Cedrick Lang’s layup made it 15-2 in favor of the Sooners.
The Miners’ Julian Washburn found the going to be particularly rough at the outset of the game. He missed his first three shots and coughed up the basketball twice in the first four minutes.
“We turned it over early. We had several turnovers that led to cheap runouts,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “They had three offensive board baskets. And their pressure bothered us.”
A 9-0 run, capped by a Jacques Streeter three-point play, pulled the Miners to within five points (29-24) with 5:57 remaining in the half. But the Sooners stole the momentum right back by scoring nine of the last 11 points in the period.
“After we closed the lead in the first half, we turned it over on back-to-back trips - John Bohannon in transition, and Malcolm Moore flipped it out of bounds underneath [the basket],” Floyd said. “In the second half, we closed it again and missed four consecutive point blank layups that would’ve changed the game. We weren’t able to take care of what we needed to take care of late, and Pledger knocked down a big shot.”
Chris Washburn led the Miners with 12 points, becoming the first UTEP freshman to score in double figures in three games to open a season since John Tofi in 2002-03. Julian Washburn and Streeter added 11 points each.
The Miners were outrebounded 38-32, although they won the battle of the boards in the second half (19-18). Offensive rebounds were a problem for the second straight game with the Sooners collecting 15 to UTEP’s seven.
“We did not offensive board it,” Floyd said. “We shot the same percentage [41 percent] that they did. We got to the foul line, but we turned it over 17 times versus their pressure. They had six more possessions as a result of that. They had eight more possessions as a result of the offensive rebound baskets.”
UTEP fared much better on the defensive end over the last 20 minutes, holding the Sooners to 27.6 percent shooting.
“There’s a lesson to be learned that you can catch up by guarding,” Floyd said. “We’ll be in that situation again.”