John Bohannon converted a three-point play with 26 seconds remaining to trim a four-point deficit down to one, and Chris Washburn made two free throws with five seconds left, giving UTEP a 55-54 win over NM State on Wednesday at the Don Haskins Center.
The Miners (2-4) snapped a four-game losing streak while evening the series with their I-10 rivals at 102 victories apiece. UTEP won for the 10th time in the last 13 meetings between the schools in El Paso.
“We’re going to be home until January 2nd. We’ve got to continue to learn how to win,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “That was a positive win for us because of the nature of the win, being down and figuring out a way late to come back and get ahead and go get one. We did it defensively.”
UTEP played from behind for most of the second half, finally retaking the lead with 4:37 to go, 48-46, on a jumper by Julian Washburn. It was the Miners’ first advantage since 20-19 at the seven-minute mark of the first half.
With the game tied at 50, NMSU (3-4) strung together four straight points on baskets by K.C. Ross-Miller and Daniel Mullings. The Miners got a big steal from C.J. Cooper off a turnover by Bandja Sy with 42 seconds remaining, leading to Bohannon’s three-point play.
Tyrone Watson turned it over for the Aggies on the other end, Bohannon missed a jumper and Washburn secured the big offensive rebound before getting fouled by Tshilidzi Nephawe. The freshman calmly swished both foul shots, Mullings’ three pointer at the buzzer rimmed out and the Miners escaped with a victory.
UTEP got another big boost from a crowd of 9,366 in moving to 2-0 at home this season.
“Our crowd was fantastic,” Floyd said. “I can’t believe we had 9,300 coming off of four stinkers in a row on the road. It’s why this job is a special job.”
A key for the Miners was holding Mullings, the Aggies’ leading scorer, to seven points, half of his season average. UTEP also shut down NMSU’s no. 2 scorer, Tyrone Watson, in the second half after he scored 13 points in the first 20 minutes.
“Julian Washburn did a great job on Watson in the second half,” Floyd said. “We switched and put Bo on Sy. We were really worried about Bo on Sy because he’s a small forward, and he did a great job on Sy in the second half. We probably had a mismatch there early because Watson killed us in the first half.”
Floyd also lauded the defensive effort of Cedrick Lang on Nephawe.
“As important as anything was the job he did on him,” Floyd said. “I thought he really limited his catches over the course of the second half down on the block, just by fronting the post.”
Julian Washburn broke out of an early-season slump, scoring 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting. It marked his second career 20-point game. Bohannon scored nine of his 15 points in the second half.
“Julian kind of got off the schneid with the 20-point game, which was real encouraging,” Floyd said. “He got a lot of his stuff around the basket tonight, which he should be able to do with his athleticism.”
The Miners shot well enough to win (46.3 percent), forced 20 turnovers, and hung in there on the boards against a much bigger Aggie squad.
“It was just a solid all-around win, and for the freshman to step up and knock down those two free throws is huge,” Floyd said. “I don’t think he has made one in practice. I wasn’t feeling real comfortable with him up there, but we will the next time.”
The Miners will play just one game in the next 18 days, hosting Idaho next Saturday (Dec. 8) at 7 p.m. Purchase of a men’s ticket gains free admission to the women’s game earlier in the afternoon versus Eastern New Mexico (4:30 p.m.). Idaho posted 19 victories last season.