John Bohannon had a double-double with 17 points and 15 rebounds and was awarded the tournament’s Barry Kobren Most Valuable Player as UTEP won the WestStar Bank Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational on Sunday with a 60-54, double overtime triumph over Denver.
The Miners (10-5) registered their fifth consecutive victory, going to the line 36 times (making 26) and outrebounding the Pioneers 49-40. That was enough on a night where they shot 32.7 percent from the field but limited Denver to a .273 field goal percentage.
“Obviously we’re real happy to get the win,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We started off great [17-4 lead] and had a nice little cushion there. We played a very disciplined team that didn’t get outside of themselves when we got up. It was something our team can learn from, their poise offensively. They just kept coming at us, kept running their stuff and eventually broke us down for a three or a back cut and really guarded us.”
After falling behind 4-2, the Miners ran off 15 consecutive points. Denver closed the half with a 10-3 run to pull within six (20-14).
The Pioneers whittled an 11-point UTEP lead (33-22) down in the second half, and eventually regained the advantage, 46-44, on two free throws by Cam Griffin with 1:20 to play. Griffin led Denver with 15 points.
The Miners sent the game into overtime when C.J. Cooper hit two foul shots with 51 seconds remaining. The Pioneers’ Jalen Love missed a three pointer at the buzzer.
The teams played to a 3-3 draw in the first overtime. Julian Washburn missed a potential game-winning jumper as time ran out.
In the second overtime, Denver scored five of the first seven points to take a 54-51 lead on a layup by Chris Udofia with 3:14 to go. The Miners outscored the Pioneers 9-0 over the final 2:55. Vince Hunter’s layup gave UTEP the lead for good, 55-54, with 1:48 left. Hunter added a free throw at the 1:29 mark and Cooper buried a huge three with 41 seconds remaining. Jake Flaggert’s free throw with 11 seconds to go completed the scoring.
UTEP made more free throws than its opponent attempted for the fifth straight game. Denver finished 12-for-16 at the line. The Miners turned their +9 rebound margin into a 17-8 advantage in second chance points.
“The key things tonight were we got offensive rebound baskets,” Floyd said. “Cedrick Lang came off the bench and really helped us. Vince Hunter started the ballgame and didn’t play crunch minutes for the first time in a while. He didn’t play the last two minutes [in regulation] and the first overtime at all, and came in three minutes deep into the second overtime and did some great things. He received a pass from Ced in our zone offense and finished a play at the rim. He had a big block late. Ced made a couple of free throws late and C.J. knocked down a big basket late.”
For a while, it looked like the teams would have a hard time scoring 40 points. It was 37-35 Miners with five minutes remaining in regulation.
“Baskets were hard to come from,” Floyd said. “The key number was they shot 27 percent from the field and we had to go two overtimes, which tells us we didn’t shoot it real well ourselves. We won the battle on the boards, which was probably the biggest key in the game, and we got ourselves to the foul line and kept them off the foul line.”
Lang (10 points/eight rebounds) joined Bohannon on the All-Tournament Team. Hunter was the Don Haskins Award winner after collecting eight points and 10 rebounds. Cooper scored 15 points. Washburn shot 1-for-9 from the field and scored two points, but helped the Miners immensely on the other end of the floor.
“His defense was just terrific and we told him that in the locker room,” Floyd said. “He had a real struggle offensively tonight and you give their defense a ton of credit. But Julian did not get affected by his lack of offense, and it’s something Vince as a young player needs to pay attention to, because he’s going to have nights like that in his career. Julian went out and affected the game. He had a tremendous defensive rebound late when we needed it. He handled ball well against the press and guarded his guy. Whoever we put him on, he just shuts that guy down. He takes great pride in it.
“We had one assist at halftime and I thought good gosh,” Floyd said. “But again, I credit their defense. They did a great job and we’re not real fluid right now. We’re making adjustments in the backcourt and we don’t have a real flow coming into play. It’s something we’re going to work on. We’ve got nine days before our first conference game and we plan to maximize that time with our guys and see if we can’t get a little better.”