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Men’s basketball falls in dramatic overtime loss against Rice

Gianluca Cuevas
Junior guard Tae Hardy with a jumping floater over two Rice defenders.

In a heartbreaking overtime loss on New Year’s Eve, the UTEP men’s basketball team (8-6, 1-2 C-USA) fell to the Rice Owls (11-3, 2-1 C-USA) 72-67. This marks the team’s third straight loss and second straight overtime loss. 

The Miners started out strong after going on a 5-0 run with 18:25 left in the first half. The lead would shift as both teams stayed neck and neck until just over the midway point of the half when UTEP managed to pull away a five-point lead thanks to a jumper by sophomore forward Ze’Rik Onyema, pushing the Miners to 20-15. The Owls would break UTEP’s lead with six minutes left in the half when Rice junior guard Jake Lieppert sunk a layup off an assist from junior guard Travis Evee, placing the visiting team ahead, 22-20. The Owls would not relinquish that lead in the first half. 

Rice completed nearly half of its field goal attempts and three three-point attempts while completing five free throws in the first half. UTEP only scored on 10 field goal attempts and two free throws, only managing to match Rice’s nine points from the three-point line. 

The start of the second half was slow for both teams, only managing to combine for a total of eight points in the first five minutes. Rice eventually found its footing culminating in a 15-point lead with 11:35 left in regulation after Rice junior forward Max Fiedler completed a layup pushing the score to 49-34. The Miners would answer back by cutting the Owls’ lead to three points thanks to a trip to the free throw line which put the Miners behind only 49-46.  

Prior to the free throw attempts, UTEP went on an 11-0 run not allowing the Owl’s offense to convert on seven possessions. Unfortunately for the Miners, Rice bounced back stalling the UTEP offense and pushing its lead to nine points late in the second half. After a huge momentum shift thanks to a three-point jumper from sophomore forward Jamari Sibley, the Miners went on a surge after only allowing Rice to two points in the final three minutes of regulation. This allowed the UTEP offense to score eleven points forcing the game into overtime with the score tied at 67-67. 

UTEP would be the first team to score after going up by two with 3:34 left to play. That would be the only time the Miners would lead in overtime after Rice doubled UTEP’s overtime score by going 10-5 in the final minutes of the game. Rice won 72-67. 

Game leaders for the Rice Owls included freshman guard Mekhi Mason who scored 19 points after going six of 13 in field goal attempts and five of six from the free point line. Sophomore guard Cameron Sheffield led the game in rebounds collecting 13 on defense and three on offense for a total of 16 on the game.  

For the Miners, junior guard Mario McKinney Jr. Posted 17 points after going only seven of 18 in field goals and three of four on free throws. Senior guard Shamar Givance would tally up six assists on 43 minutes of play. 

UTEP would finish the game with 26 of 65 field goals, five of 26 three-pointers and 10 of 20 field goals. 33 points came off the bench, 32 came from the paint and 19 from fastbreaks.  

“First of all, give credit to Rice, they’ve got a good basketball team,” said UTEP Head Coach Joe Golding after the loss. “It was just a frustrating night for us overall, we couldn’t really get anything going. If you’re going to be in close games, we’ve got to get better at a lot of stuff.” 

Officiating can bring upon so many controversies as some fans may have found themselves at odds with this game’s officiating. Coach Golding, however, stands behind the calls and reinforces the difficulty of the profession. 

“Officiates one of the toughest things to do,” Golding said. “I mean, it’s really hard to officiate games. I’m glad I’m not an official. We have great officials in Conference USA and sometimes you’re not going to get it, you don’t agree with the call, it’s fine. You can’t worry about officials.” 

UTEP now heads to the bayou for a road rematch against the LA Tech Bulldogs (8-6, 1-2 C-USA) at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 7 at the Thomas Assembly Center in Ruston, LA. Despite having previously beaten the Bulldogs, ESPN Analytics predicts LA Tech has an 81 percent chance of winning this matchup. 

The Miners will be back at home at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 11 at the Don Haskins Center to face off against the UTSA Roadrunners (6-8, 0-3 C-USA) for UTEP’s Military Appreciation Night. 

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.
Gianluca Cuevas
Gianluca Cuevas, Photographer
Gianluca Cuevas is a staff photographer for The Prospector. He is a senior majoring in mechanical engineering with a minor in mathematics. He plans to work in the automotive industry designing cars/mechanic in the F1. He also has his small photography business 365elements which he plans to continue to grow.
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Men’s basketball falls in dramatic overtime loss against Rice