Dwayne Davis scored 27 points, and Southern Miss shot 58.5 percent from the field in an 85-67 win over UTEP in the Conference USA Championship semifinals on Friday at the BOK Center.
The Miners (18-14) never led and allowed a season-high point total. Southern Miss (25-8) advanced to Saturday’s championship game.
UTEP had led at one point in each of its previous 27 games. UTEP’s chances of upsetting the tournament’s no. 2 seed were dealt a major blow when Julian Washburn exited the game with three fouls at the 9:35 mark of the first half.
Without Washburn there to defend him, Davis had a field day, hitting 9-of-13 shots, 3-of-4 three pointers and all six of his free throw attempts. Washburn had limited him to six points on 3-of-13 shooting in the first game between the teams on Feb. 20 in Hattiesburg.
“They are a good basketball team. They’ve got good guards,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “Davis has been playing at a high level. I thought a key stretch in the game was when Julian picked up his third foul. We had the guy we wanted guarding Davis at that point. We sat him for the next nine minutes and the game got away from us. Julian means an awful lot to our team.”
The Golden Eagles led 19-18 when Washburn went out. They outscored the Miners 29-13 the rest of the half in rolling to a 48-31 lead.
The Miners closed a 19-point Southern Miss lead down to 11 (64-53) on a three pointer by Jacques Streeter with 8:01 to play. They were also down 11 (70-59) with five and a half minutes remaining and down 10 (74-64) with a little under four minutes left. The Golden Eagles had the answer each time as UTEP repeatedly failed to get defensive stops.
“You never really feel like you’re going to get over the top,” Floyd said. “They were able to penetrate, dump and kick. We really just didn’t contain or ever give ourselves a chance to get back in it because of our lack of ability to guard them.”
Southern Miss scored 44 points in the paint to UTEP’s 18. The Miners were only outrebounded 29-27, but that was misleading since they were battered physically by the Golden Eagles.
Southern Miss also converted 13 UTEP turnovers into 20 points.
“I thought the first possession of the game was telling. It was an offensive putback dunk,” Floyd said. “I thought the last possession of the first half was telling in that they missed a shot but tipped it three times at the rim. They were inside of us all night long, on the dribble and on the drive. They broke us down. We didn’t do a great job on the defensive board. We gave up offensive points off the basket. Points off turnovers and points in the paint were really big.”
C.J. Cooper had a big game for the Miners with a career-high 20 points. Washburn added 13 and Jacques Streeter, in his final college game, scored 10.
On the other end of the floor, it was just too much of Dwayne Davis.
“He was very involved all night long,” Floyd said. “The guy is a terrific player. Julian has really been a stopper for us, and he was not on him.
“We really paid a price in a lot of areas. Our plan going in was no middle drives, and they absolutely got to the middle all night long on us. We didn’t have the same built-in help that we had in Hattiesburg. Their guards just broke us down. They were able to get it at the rim for the most part.”
The Miners will wait to see if they’ve done enough to warrant an NIT invitation. Otherwise the season ends with an 18-14 record. If this really is it for the 2012-13 Miners, they made dramatic strides, increasing their overall wins from 15 to 18, their conference wins from seven to 10, and advancing one round deeper in the conference tournament.
Hopes are high for the future.
“We have a nice class coming in with a bunch of key guys like Cedrick [Lang], C.J., Julian, Chris [Washburn] and McKenzie Moore returning. I like the blend of old and young,” Floyd said. “These guys here have gotten a lot of experience the last two years, and I think they’ve gotten better.”