Breathe Chris, breathe.
Over 9,000 fans were thinking something along those lines as UTEP freshman Chris Washburn stepped to the free throw line with five seconds to play against rival New Mexico State.
I was sitting in my regular spot, Section A Row 1, two hours prior to tip-off already talking smack to Aggie assistant coaches and players. Tip off was still a ways away but you could feel the tension of a rivalry game, tension that has built up over 203 meetings. Most knew it was going to be another battle in the Don and that's exactly what it was.
UTEP started the game much better than the previous 4-game stretch that many Miner fans have consciously forgot about. It went back and forth. Trading blows like it was a boxing match.
Chris Washburn was called for a technical foul late in the first half for a "punch" thrown at NMSU's Tyrone Watson. The reaction by Watson led to "Flopper" chants by the student section and eventually turned into boo's the entire night he touched the ball.
The crowd was alive and well but NMSU led at the half, 32-38.
The second half was almost a mirror image of the first half. Back and forth they went. Cheers to sighs. Sighs to cheers. The student section making sure the NMSU bench knew us Miner fans DO NOT like Aggies. It was a rivalry game and you could not expect anything less. As time ticked away UTEP found itself down by four with 1:25 remaining. Many thought we had lost this one. It felt like all the air had been let out of a balloon.
But just like UTEP had won many these battles before, defense came to the rescue. Bandja Sy was forced into a turnover with under a minute left. The crowd, back on their feet, urged the Miners to shoot after every pass. The young poised squad took their time and found junior John Bohannon in the paint for an old fashioned three point play.
It wasn't over just yet.
On the ensuing inbound Watson seemed to have traveled and been fouled at the exact same time. On pins and needles, we anxiously waited for the call.
I could have sworn my eyes got watery with excitement. With 24 seconds left, the Miners had the ball and a chance to win the game.
UTEP head coach Tim Floyd drew up a play. It was simple, feed the post. Bohannon had the ball put up a little hook shot that was off to the right. It clinked off but Washburn was there for the offensive board and was fouled on the put back. With ice in his veins, Washburn hit both free throws to give UTEP the 1 point lead. NMSU's last chance came on a three point shot by Daniel Mullings that appeared to be half way down before rattling around a couple times popping out.
I thought I almost had a heart attack. It wasn't pretty but it was a win. It was a win against our rivals. It was a game that this young team needed to have. To Miner fans this game means so much more than any other game the entire season, it is a game we HATE to lose and LOVE to win. After the 204th meeting of the Battle of I-10, walking out the Don, I was able to tell myself…
Breathe Chris, breathe.