EL PASO, Texas - Ever since returning to action against UNLV last Monday, Konner Tucker has showed why Tim Floyd gave him one more opportunity. And every game since then, Tucker has done even better than the one before.
Tucker scored a season-high 18 points on 6-of-8 from the three and the Miners defeated Arkansas-Pine Bluff 83-61 Saturday at the Don Haskins Center. UTEP will now advance to the championship game in the WestStar Bank Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational Sunday against Nebraska.
"I got a couple easy ones early which was good…They want you to give up long bombs and that's what I didn't want to do but they were going in," Tucker said.
UTEP led the entire game-except for an early two-point deficit in the first half-and ballooned a seven-point halftime lead into a double-digit lead to open the second half. The Miners shot one of the best halves in UTEP history at 77.3 percent in the second.
But it also came with a pair of challenges, one of which was beyond the team's control.
Floyd missed the game tonight due to the flu, according to Ken DeWeese, as both assistants Phil Johnson and DeWeese were assigned as the head coaches for the night. DeWeese said Floyd will be a "game-time decision" for tomorrow night's game.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff also cut the lead to three when they went on a 7-0 run with 12:30 to go, but John Bohannon, Julian Washburn and Tucker took over, combining to score the next 22 points for UTEP.
"I felt the game was too close. Arkansas-Pine Bluff is a really good team but I feel we should have beat them by 20 or 30," Washburn said. "We just got excited and decided we were working for something so we picked it up."
The Miners expanded their lead to 10 three minutes later and were up by 20 by the three-minute mark.
Bohannon, who finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, was inserted back into the starting lineup along with Tucker, who started for the first time all year. Washburn had his first double-double of his career with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
All five UTEP starters scored in double-figures, which was the first time five players have scored 10 or more points since the Miners defeated Marshall in the 2011 Conference USA Tournament.
UTEP outrebounded their opponents for the first time since their season-opening game against Oral Roberts. The Miners held a 36-27 advantage tonight.
"I thought our guys played tough…we still have to get better defensive boards. We gave up some really easy ones…we still need to do a little bit better," DeWeese said.
The Miners led 35-28 at the end of the first half and controlled the half nearly the entire time.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff took the lead once with 10:26 to go at 19-17 off a layup by Daniel Broughton. UTEP regained the lead right away by going on a 12-2 run. The Miners never looked back after that, even when Lazabian Jackson tried to keep his team in it with his 11-first half points. Jackson finished with 15 points as did Mitchell Anderson.