D’Andre Wright scored a career-high 25 points, and Kauri Black added 13 as Tulsa repeatedly punished UTEP inside in a 74-70 win on Saturday at the Don Haskins Center.
The Hurricane (13-11, 5-5 C-USA) scored 34 points in the paint, as Black and Wright combined to make 15-of-20 shots. The rest of the team was 10-for-36 from the floor, but it didn’t matter on a night where UTEP’s interior defense was uncharacteristically poor.
UTEP (13-9, 6-3 C-USA) had its eight-game home winning streak snapped while missing a golden opportunity to tie Southern Miss and UCF for second place in the Conference USA standings. Instead, the Miners dropped into fourth place.
The season-high crowd of 9,811 roared as the Miners crawled out of a 11-point deficit to take a 56-54 lead with 6:45 remaining. But UTEP couldn’t finish the deal.
“We had one hell of a crowd. It’s really disappointing that we let them down,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “ We got beat by a team that played better than us. It was a game where you could go back and look at the shot chart at the end of the game and tell who won. They got it in the lane more than we did. As a result, they took higher percentage shots and made those shots.”
Tulsa shot 51.9 percent in the first half, opening a 30-19 lead with 3:40 on the clock before a three-point play by C.J. Cooper pulled the Miners to within eight (35-27) at the break.
After the Hurricane regained a double-digit lead (45-35) in the first five minutes of the second half, the Miners went on a 16-5 run, and a layup by McKenzie Moore put them ahead 51-50 with 9:59 remaining. It was UTEP’s first lead since 2-0 in the opening minute.
Konner Tucker’s three-pointer gave the Miners the 56-54 cushion with 6:45 left. A minute later, Shaquille Harrison tied the game on a driving layup. Tulsa went up 58-56 with 4:35 to go on a layup by Wright. Tucker answered with a layup of his own to knot the contest for the final time before Tulsa scored the next six points. The four-point final margin was as close as UTEP could get.
Scottie Haralson’s three pointer with 3:57 to play broke the 58-58 deadlock and gave Tulsa the lead for good.
Tulsa shredded a UTEP defense that had allowed less than 55 points in five of its previous six home games.
“We made a star out of D’Andre Wright,” Floyd said. “He had a great game. Our offside help was not very good, our screen and roll coverage was not very good. We got whipped on the interior by Black and Wright. The three by Haralson on a pick and pop at the top of the key was a big back breaker. We got nothing out of our alternative defenses, the box or the triangle.”
The Miners shot 25 percent in the first half (6-for-24). They scored 43 points in the second half, but couldn’t get stops. Nearly half of UTEP’s shot attempts (25-of-54) were three pointers.
“Again, you credit their defense. They did a great job,” Floyd said.
Tulsa showed heart, playing without leading scorer James Woodard and with several players who were nursing aches and pains. The Golden Hurricane had lost four of its previous five games.
Tucker scored 17 points, Moore 14, Jacques Streeter 11 and Julian Washburn 10. Cedrick Lang battled inside with eight points and a career-high 15 rebounds.
“I thought Cedrick played hard,” Floyd said. “He rebounded. He’d like to have some free throws back [4-for-10]. He played spirited. He tried to guard, but was really taken advantage of at times by the big kids on the block.”
Moore didn’t start, scoring 12 of his points in the second half, and John Bohannon didn’t play. Floyd said both were late for a film session and shootaround earlier in the day.
“It’s not the first time,” he said. “It’s ridiculous to have to deal with that this time of the year. I’m really sick of it.”
The Miners will regroup and go back on the road Wednesday to face Houston (14-8, 3-6 C-USA) at Hofheinz Pavilion.