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UTEP falls in a low-scoring affair at the WestStar Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational

Annabella Mireles
Guard Mario McKinney Jr. Plays offense as he passes two Aggies players to the basket.

The Sun Bowl Association hosted its sixty-first WestStar Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational Dec. 21 and 22 at the Don Haskins Center. Alongside the UTEP Miners (8-4, 1-0 Conference USA), North Carolina A&T State (NC A&T) (5-8), Kent State (10-3) and New Mexico State University (NMSU) (7-5) all participated in the holiday tournament. 

In 2021, Bradley University won the tournament after defeating UTEP, 73-66. There, the Miners went 21 of 57 in field goals and six of 19 from the three-point line against Bradley. The most recent finals victory for the Miners came in 2019 after shooting past Wyoming in a 76-65 win with then UTEP Head Coach Rodney Terry still at the helm. UTEP has won the tournament 32 times and hoped to extend that margin this year. 

“We couldn’t be anymore excited for this year’s tournament and the competition that we will all get to witness,” said Sun Bowl Association Executive Director Bernie Olivas. “With the Aggies coming to town and the Miners looking to pick up more great quality wins, we are in for some fun and competitive college basketball.” 

Kent State vs. NMSU-Dec. 21 

The first game played was the matchup between the Kent State Golden Flashes and the NMSU Aggies. Kent State  is ranked No. 33 in the nation with a 7-3 record, most recently shutting out Concord University 106-56 at home. NMSU was 6-4 coming in also coming off a win in an in-state battle between Northern New Mexico. There, the Aggies came out on top  95-53. 

 Halfway through the first period, the game remained competitive after both teams managed to score 12 points. The tie was broken after NMSU junior forward Issa Muhammad took a trip to the free-throw line putting the Aggies up 13-12 with 10:45 left in the half. The game remained close with neither team extending its lead. It was not until 3:10 that Kent State began to pull away. The Golden Flashes outscored the Aggies 15-7 in the final three minutes, culminating in a three-point buzzer-beater from Kent State junior guard Giovanni Santiago. The move from Kent State placed the score at 37-29. 

Kent State carried its momentum into the second half when the team pushed its lead to 15 points with 16:26 left in the half. NMSU was dead in the water until it managed to close the gap to one point with 11:14 on the clock. In those five minutes, the Aggies scored 14 points placing the team squarely for a comeback. Unfortunately for NMSU, this surge would not be enough to win as Kent State would not relinquish its lead coming out victorious in a 73-63 win over the Aggies. Top scores for both teams were Muhammad and Kent State senior guard Malique Jacobs each scoring 17 points. 

UTEP vs. NC A&T-Dec. 21 

In the second game of the tournament, UTEP faced the NC A&T Aggies. The Miners are off to a great start this 2022-2023 season after starting 7-3. UTEP has not lost a home game prior to this tournament. NC A&T has struggled at its start to the season entering 5-6 into the invitational. The Aggies are coming off a close 70-66 loss against Norfolk State University. 

The Miners started off this match up by falling behind 12-4 early in the first half after NC A&T scored eight unanswered points in the first three minutes. With 12:44 left in the first half, UTEP went three of 13 from the floor struggling to score on all aspects of the game. Miners’ sophomore forward Derick Hamilton, who did not play against LA Tech, helped the Miners close the Aggies’ lead to two with 10:46 after scoring eight consecutive points. With 7:51 left in the half, UTEP found itself tied with the Aggies 18-18 hoping to take the lead. Both teams exchanged shots for the remainder of the first half with neither team expanding the lead past five points. UTEP managed to come out on top 31-27 at the half. 

The second half started by continuing the back-and-forth trend as the Miners struggled from the three-point line on scoring on one of the 12 three-point attempts with 16:32 left in the half. UTEP finally pushed its lead to 11 points with 12:17 left in the game. With 10 minutes left, the Miners were firmly in the driver’s seat with a score of 49-40. UTEP senior guard Shamar Givance noted 12 points in the second half alone with 3:41 on the clock expanding the Miners’ lead to 65-52. The Miners would not give up its lead, winning 75-62. Givance led the team with 18 points with Hamilton coming in second with 11 points in only nine minutes of play. 

UTEP would go on to face Kent State in the Championship Contest of WestStar Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational and NMSU and NC A&T would face off in the consolation game after one day of play. 

NMSU vs. NC A&T-Dec. 22 

NMSU started the consolation matchup against NC A&T by going up 9-3 with 17:33 left in the first quarter. NMSU firmly held on to the lead until NC A&T closed the lead to 34-29 with 4:14 on the clock. Failing to muster a comeback, NC A&T was down at the half, NMSU led 46-36 at the end of the half. Going 19 of 36 in field goals and five of 12 from the three-point line, NMSU managed to keep NC A&T at arm’s length. 

The second half became competitive after NC A&T scored 20 points and took the lead from NMSU. That lead did not last long as NMSU took the lead back with just over 11 minutes of play. Inching back was NC A&T with 8:10 left in the half after pushing the score to 67-65. Unfortunately for NC A&T, they could not find a way to outscore NMSU as the game ended with a score of 85-76. NMSU finished right at 50 percent in field goals going 33 of 66 attempts. NMSU senior guard Xavier Pinson and sophomore forward Marchelus Avery both left the game with 20 points each for the win. 

UTEP vs. Kent State-Dec. 22 

The championship matchup started even for both teams with the first points of the game only coming after two minutes of play as junior forward Calvin Soloman dunks the ball in after a rebound for the Miners. Midway through the first half, the Miners were up 13-10 over the Golden Flashes with sophomore forward Otis Frazier III leading the pack with four points at the ten-minute mark. UTEP then went on a five-minute scoring drought allowing Kent State to crawl back into the game. Kent State finished the half on top with a low score of 25-22. 

The second half presented the same slow and methodical scoring as the first. With 7:48 left in the half, the Miners have converted 34 rebounds but only converted 16 in the second half. UTEP struggled with penalties committing 15 violations against the Golden Flashes. With only 6:10 left in the game, the Miners were on top 40-39. After even more back and forth between the two teams, The Miners were down by one point with 18.3 seconds left in the game. Unfortunately, for the Miners, the Kent State defense held up last-minute boxing out UTEP from scoring at the end of 40 minutes. The final score, 47-46 Kent State. 

Junior guard Tae Hardy led the Miners with 11 points against the Golden Flashes. This loss breaks the Miners’ eight-game winning streak at home pushing the team’s record to 8-4. 

“This time of year, everybody wants to be home with their families, and we have the opportunity to play in the Sun Bowl Tournament and we’re thankful for that,” said UTEP Head Coach Joe Golding postgame. “They do a terrific job running this tournament so it’s an honor to play in it. I thought our guys did a good job.” 

The Miners will have to wait a week before they face off against C-USA opponents UAB at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 29 at Bartow Arena in Birmingham, Alabama. 

Emmanuel Rivas Valenzuela is the sports editor and may be reached at [email protected]: @rivasemmanuel2 on Instagram 

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About the Contributors
Emmanuel Rivas Valenzuela
Emmanuel Rivas Valenzuela, Contributor/Writer
Emmanuel Rivas Valenzuela is a contributor for The Prospector. He is a senior majoring in multimedia journalism with minors in political science and Chicano studies. Emmanuel served as sports editor at The Prospector and as a writer with Minero Magazine. Now, Emmanuel is interning at El Paso Matters and is a contributor at The Prospector.
Annabella Mireles
Annabella Mireles, Photo Editor
Annabella Mireles is a junior at the University of Texas at El Paso majoring in digital media production and minoring in film. She is the photo editor at the Prospector newspaper and Minero magazine as well as owning her own photography business. She plans on pursuing photography full time.
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UTEP falls in a low-scoring affair at the WestStar Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational