EL PASO, Texas - Head coach Tim Floyd said weeks ago his team would be ready for this game, even if they weren't at full strength. But despite nearly two full weeks of practice, returning two rotation players and playing in front of a season-high 9,027 fans, it took nearly the entire game for UTEP to make a game out of the No. 20 team in the nation.
UTEP's late rally came up short and the No. 20 UNLV Rebels held on for a 62-60 victory Monday night at the Don Haskins Center.
Floyd felt his team lost the game in the first half, when they went 9-of-27 from the field and just 2-of-10 from the three. They were also forced into nine turnovers en route to a 31-22 halftime deficit.
"I feel like that game was lost in the first half. We just played really foolish offensively, really turned the ball over, started isolating (John) Bohannon from the 3-point line, from the lane and I don't know where that came from," Floyd said.
But the Miners found some fight in them late in the contest, as they cut into a lead that reached 15 points at one time with 17:25 left in the game. The UNLV lead hit 12 with 10:56 remaining and 10 at 53-43 with 6:54 to go but it would also mark the last time the deficit would hit double figures.
The Miners finished the game on a 12-5 run, hit the last four points and even had an opportunity to win the game with time expiring.
After Bryce DeJean-Jones missed a pair of free throws with the Rebels leading 62-60 and 34 seconds left. UTEP held for the last shot and had an inbounds with four seconds left but the hot hands of Konner Tucker could not muster an upset for the game-winning shot from the top of the key.
"We were just running a screen across the lane and then me coming through the door and they close it off. Jacques (Streeter) made a perfect pass, I tried to get my man up in the air, he jumped and I didn't get it to fall," Tucker said.
Tucker went 3-of-6 from the perimeter in his first game of the season since spraining his wrist against Southeastern Oklahoma State Nov. 3 in the team's last exhibition. He finished with 12 points in 22 minutes.
"It felt good to have him back. He played with a lot of confidence, hit a few big shots for us," Julian Washburn's said. "He provided that spark we needed. The last shot he shot looked good but didn't go in."
UNLV shot better from long distance, which was the biggest factor of the night. The Rebels went 8-of-17 from three with UTEP going 6-of-18 from that range. UNLV also hit 6-of-12 in the first half.
The Rebels had four players score in double figures and were led by DeJean-Jones' 12 points, team-high six rebounds and game-high five assists. Anthony Bennett had 10 points, Anthony Marshall finished with 11 and Katin Reinhardt scored all 10 of his points in the first half.
"Anthony Marshall was terrific tonight, organized things," Dave Rice said. "The stats don't do justice to how good he was tonight."
Rice also praised his team's offensive performance, even though hi team that was averaging better than 80 points a game. He said the near collapse came on the defensive end.
"(UTEP) certainly started shooting better, but we lost our focus in the second half, on the defensive end," Rice said. "I was actually pleased with us in the offensive end in the second half, we lost our concentration and again the numbers bear that out."
The Miners were led by Washburn's 13 points and game-high eight rebounds. Tucker was the only other Miner to finish in double-figure scoring.
UTEP will make a quick turnaround and face Oregon, who is receiving votes in both polls, Wednesday night at the Don Haskins Center.