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El Paso, TX — John Bohannon hit the go-ahead basket with 1:58 remaining, and C.J. Cooper added a three pointer with 55 seconds left as UTEP held on for a 63-61 win at UAB on Saturday night.
The Miners (13-6, 3-1 C-USA) dealt the Blazers (12-5, 1-2 C-USA) their first home loss of the season. UAB had been 10-0 at Bartow Arena, including a victory over North Carolina.
“It was a quality win for us,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said after his team won for the eighth time in nine games. “I thought our guys used the formula that we have used with our new re-engineered team in that we rebounded, we tried to defend at a higher level, we try not to put teams at the line, and we try not to turn it over.”
It was another classic matchup between UTEP and UAB, but unlike the three previous meetings in Birmingham, it didn’t go to overtime. The Miners were able to finish it off in regulation this time.
It didn’t come easy, however. UTEP was in control for most of the night and led throughout the second half until Rod Rucker’s layup with 3:40 left put the Blazers ahead 57-56. It was UAB’s first lead since 16-15 midway through the first period.
Bohannon made two free throws at the 3:23 mark and the Miners regained the lead, 58-57. Rucker’s foul shots with 2:19 to go put UAB ahead 59-58 before Bohannon took over once again.
Cooper’s triple made the score 63-59. The Blazers’ Robert Williams was fouled on the other end and made both free throws to cut it to 63-61 with 49 seconds to play.
That was the precursor to a crazy finish. With the shot clock winding down, Cooper airballed a jumper. Vince Hunter grabbed the offensive rebound and banked in a wild shot from near the three-point line. The officials took several minutes to review before determining the basket came after the shot clock ran out.
UAB had the ball down two with 15 seconds left. Williams missed a three pointer, Cooper snared the defensive rebound and kicked it to Bohannon, who threw it to the other end of the floor hoping the clock would run out.
It didn’t. UAB still had three tenths of a second on the clock, but couldn’t convert the fullcourt pass into a tip-in basket.
Hunter had 18 points and nine rebounds. Cooper scored 17. Bohannon added 11 points and eight boards.
“Our guys are game planning well,” Floyd said. “We’re getting tremendous, tremendous play out of our freshman Vince Hunter. We’re getting tremendous play out of our leader John Bohannon. Cedrick Lang has been a rock game in and game out on the road. Matt Willms stepped up and played tonight, and it has helped him as a freshman starting versus coming off the bench. Cedrick, to his credit, has deferred knowing that it is helping Matt, which tells you what kind of guy he is. We got good guard play tonight from C.J. Cooper and Julian Washburn.”
The Miners outshot UAB slightly, 44.4 percent to 42.3 percent. They made 9-of-11 free throws. But perhaps most significant, they were outrebounded by only one (33-32). The Blazers entered the game ranked fourth nationally in rebound margin.
UAB’s two big guns – Chad Frazier and C.J. Washington – scored 13 and 11 points respectively. Frazier shot 3-for-9 from the field. Notorious Miner killer Jordan Swing was 3-for-8 from the field, 0-for-4 from three-point range and scored six.
“Julian Washburn did a phenomenal job in all defenses – the 1-3-1, the triangle, but more importantly when he was shading Frazier, their go-to-guy,” Floyd said. “He had zero field goals at the half and Julian did a tremendous job. We had to play without Julian for nine minutes in the first half with two quick fouls. I thought that was a key part of the game. Jake Flaggert came in and knocked down two threes. It allowed us to leave Julian in there and finish the game.”
El Paso native and UTEP freshman rushing record-holder Aaron Jones even got a piece of the action, playing a little over a minute.
“Aaron got his feet wet tonight and did all right,” Floyd said. “It was only a minute but it was a big minute giving C.J. a blow. We called back-to-back timeouts to get C.J. back in and get his breath underneath him.”
To say it was a heck of a road trip would be a gross understatement. The Miners won at Middle Tennessee on Thursday, 63-54, to snap the Blue Raiders’ 25-game conference home win streak.
Now they’ll return home for three straight games versus UTSA (Jan. 25, 2 p.m.), Louisiana Tech (Jan. 30, 7:05) and Rice (Feb. 1, 7:05).
“Overall we’re just really pleased with the win,” Floyd said. “We’ve got to go back home and play better than the last time we were home against Charlotte. Hopefully our crowd is going to turn out and realize we’re really under the gun here and we need all the help we can get. I’m hoping for our biggest crowd of the year when we come back [next Saturday].”
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