Konner Tucker scored 14 points, and Julian Washburn scored 10 of his 12 in the second half as UTEP tipped off Conference USA play with a 66-57 victory at Tulane on Wednesday at Devlin Fieldhouse.
The Miners (7-6, 1-0 C-USA) scored the game’s first five points and never trailed, despite some anxious moments down the stretch, in handing Tulane (12-4, 0-1) its first home loss in 11 games.
“We got off to a great start,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We made four threes in the first 10 minutes of the ballgame. We kind of got our heads up. Defensively we did a terrific job. The entire plan that we had defensively was [assistant coach] Phil Johnson’s -- all night long. I thought we guarded really well against a team that’s going to finish in the top three or four in our league.”
For the fourth time in five games, UTEP held a team under 40 percent shooting. The Green Wave finished at 33.3 percent (20-for-60), the lowest field goal percentage by a UTEP opponent this season.
Tulane’s Josh Davis, the C-USA scoring and rebounding leader with 18.1 ppg and 10.3 rpg coming in, finished with nine points and nine boards. He shot 3-for-12 from the field. The Green Wave’s three other top guns – Jordan Callahan, Ricky Tarrant and Kendall Timmons – made 10-of-33 shots combined.
“Julian Washburn did a marvelous job on Josh Davis -- just a terrific, terrific job,” Floyd said. “We did a terrific job on Callahan with Konner Tucker. I’m really proud of the effort that he gave. I thought McKenzie Moore came out in the second half and defended Timmons very well. He didn’t let him get to the rim and limited his drives.”
UTEP jumped out to an 11-2 lead in the first four minutes. The Miners instated an 11-point lead (17-6) midway through the half. Tulane nearly came all the way back, cutting the deficit to two (28-26) at the break.
The Miners played with poise at the start of the second half. A 9-2 run built a 32-29 lead to 41-31. UTEP had its biggest lead of 15 points (46-31) when Tucker drained a three with 12:55 to play.
Thirty seconds later, John Bohannon fouled out of the game with five points and three rebounds. Cedrick Lang came in, but picked up his fifth foul with 3:06 remaining. UTEP was clinging to a 56-50 lead at that point.
In came freshman Chris Washburn for his first action of the night. He was a big factor down the stretch with four points, two rebounds and two big free throws with 34 seconds left that put the Miners up seven (62-55) and quelled a Tulane rally.
“We told [Chris] when Bo fouled out that he was going to have to close the game for us because we figured Ced would foul out, and that’s what happened,” Floyd said. “He had a big defensive board and a big offensive tip-in. He made a free throw. He caught it and kicked it back to free throw shooters on an inbounds play before he got fouled. He did a lot of heady, smart things and guarded the screen and roll very well.”
“I was just staying ready on the bench so when our last big man fouled out, I could come in and step up and try to seal the game,” Washburn said. “Free throws are free throws. People are going to yell in the stands, but as long as you sit there and be patient and just go through your habit, you’re going to make them.”
The Miners shot 50 percent and outrebounded the Green Wave 38-33, with McKenzie Moore pulling down nine boards. Tulane led C-USA in rebound margin (+7.3 rpg) entering the game. Moore had a big second half with seven points and eight rebounds in 18 minutes after battling foul trouble in the first frame.
Jacques Streeter chipped in with 10 points, and Lang added eight. All eight Miners who played scored, and UTEP doubled up Tulane in bench points (16-8).
It was a huge victory for the Miners, who will host Marshall in the league home opener on Saturday at 7. Marshall ripped Tulsa on Wednesday, 79-61, in Huntington.
The Miners improved to 7-1 all-time in Conference USA openers and gained some much-needed confidence that they could win on the road.
“Starting out conference, we knew everything was going to get turned up a notch,” Tucker said. “We just wanted to come in here and execute and guard them on the defensive end. We knew that they were really good offensively.
“We knew they were going to make a run at the end of the game. We just had to withstand it. I think we did a good job of that. We knocked down some free throws, guarded them on the other end and we were fortunate to get the win.”