MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- The MTSU men’s basketball team continued Conference USA play Thursday against longtime member University of Texas at El Paso.
Both teams came into the game near the top of the C-USA standings. It was another hard fought contest between the teams, but UTEP came out on top, 63-54 snapping the Blue Raiders home conference winning streak.
With the loss, the 25 home conference winning streak by the Blue Raiders came to end. This started while the program was the Sun Belt Conference and continued in C-USA. The last time MTSU lost a home conference game was Jan. 13, 2011, when it fell 71-61 against Florida Atlantic.
“You just got to give credit to those guys. They made plays, and we did not make plays,” MTSU senior guard Tweety Knight said after the loss.
MTSU head coach Kermit Davis added, “It was like boys playing men around the goal in the last 15 minutes of the game. We were not trying to make it, but just trying to get it off. The perimeter was not great tonight, but I am responsible for it all. We all just got whipped at what we do well and that is be tough. UTEP was the toughest team down the stretch and executed.”
The Miners are now 11-1 this season when holding teams to under 40 percent shooting. The Blue Raiders were held to 32.2 percent shooting from the field. Also, UTEP improved by outshooting its opponent, 46 percent to 32 percent.
Early on, the Miners took a 12-4 lead after a bucket by junior forward Julian Washburn. However, after a Blue Raider timeout at the 13:46 mark of the first half, they went on a 10-2 run to tie the score at 14 after a three-point play by MTSU junior forward Jacquez Rozier with 9:11 remaining in the opening half.
During the rest of the first half, both teams traded the lead on several occasions.
MTSU highest advantage was five, 29-24 after a jumper by senior forward Neiko Hunter with 31 seconds left in the half. However, UTEP nailed a three at the buzzer by Washburn to cut the Blue Raider advantage to two, 29-27 at the half.
“I thought it was a big play,” Davis said. “We guarded it great, but (junior guard) Marcus Tarrance just got lost in our wing.”
In the second half, both teams once again went back and forth, then UTEP went on a 7-0 run to take a 44-37 advantage after a basket by senior center and this week’s C-USA Player of the Week John Bohannon with 8:48 left in the game.
The Blue Raiders answered with a three by senior guard and former Siegel star Kerry Hammonds to make it 44-40. It would be the closest the Blue Raiders got during the rest of the game. The Miners added back-to-back threes of its own by freshman guard/forward Jake Flaggert and C.J. Cooper to push the lead to 50-40 and it never looked back.
The Blue Raiders were led by Neiko Hunter with 13 points, and he was the only one in double figures in the loss. The Miners were led by Vince Hunter with 20 points.
With the loss, the Blue Raiders dropped to 11-6, 1-1, while the Miners improve to 12-6, 2-1. MTSU is back at home Saturday afternoon at 5 p.m. against UTSA.
“There are a lot of good teams just like that in our league, and we got to bounce back quickly against a good UTSA team,” Davis said.