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Second-half shooting woes doom Raiders against UTEP

Blue Raiders drop 63-54 decision to Miners

January 16, 2014 · @MTAthletics

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - The Middle Tennessee men's basketball team (11-6, 1-1 C-USA) struggled from the floor in the second half, shooting 29.0-percent as UTEP (12-6, 2-1 C-USA) rallied to a 63-54 victory Thursday evening inside the Murphy Center.

The loss ended MT's three-game winning streak, along with its 17-game conference streak. Prior to the contest the Raiders' had won 25 consecutive home conference games. MT's last home loss in conference play came Jan. 13, 2011 against Florida Atlantic via a 71-61 decision.

Middle Tennessee was led on the night by Neiko Hunter with 13 points and eight rebounds. Shawn Jones was second on the team, putting up nine points to go along with six boards, while Tweety Knight recorded eight points and swiped six steals.

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Men's Basketball vs. UTEP
Entering Thursday's contest, the Blue Raiders posted a 45.8-field goal percentage on the season. Against UTEP, MT shot just 32.2-percent from the floor, after going 29.0-percent in the second frame.

"The game was 35-35 and then they were absolutely the most physical from that point on," said MT head coach Kermit Davis. "They outrebounded us by five, got more 50/50 balls than we did, blocked more shots than we did. UTEP was the toughest team down the stretch and give them all the credit."

After a back-and-forth first half which saw the Blue Raiders down eight points early after a 10-0 spurt by UTEP, Knight nailed a three-pointer with 13:35 left in the first. The trey sparked a 7-0 MT run to pull the Raiders back within one with 12:23 remaining. Four more ties left the score knotted at 22-all with four minutes left in the first.

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Middle Tennessee went up 29-24 with 31 seconds left, after an offensive rebound and put-back by Hunter. UTEP's Julian Washburn hit a three-pointer as time expired to cut the MT lead to 29-27 at the half.

Opening the second half, UTEP and MT knotted things up five more times and sat tied at 37-all with 10:50 remaining. The Miners seemed to take charges and rattled off a 7-0 run to take its largest lead thus far. Kerry Hammonds II breathed some life into the Blue Raiders with a run stopping three-pointer to narrow the UTEP lead to 44-40 with 8:29 left.

Following a block by John Bohannon, UTEP drained back-to-back three-balls to push the Miner lead to double-digits for the first time all night with 6:34 on the clock.

Hunter responded for the Blue Raiders with a layup, while drawing the foul. He missed the and-one, but Jaqawn Raymond collected the offensive board for MT. Hunter then drew another foul and hit a pair at the line to close the gap to 50-44 with 5:10 to play.

UTEP then used a 7-0 run to take a 57-44 lead with just over three minutes remaining. Reggie Upshaw, Jr. broke the Miner run after a smooth-drive through the lane for two.

The Miners' quick transition ended in an alley-op dunk to cap off a 19-9 run that spanned nearly seven minutes of the second half. UTEP pushed the lead up to 16 with a minute remaining, following a pair of made free throws by Matt Willms, before settling on the 63-54 decision.

"They were one of the longest and toughest teams we've played all year," Jones said. "They made it really tough to get baskets around the rim. They also made a lot more toughness plays than we did and that helped them get into a groove in the second half."

UTEP was led offensively by Vince Hunter with 20 points, going 10-for-13 from the floor, while corralling eight rebounds. Washburn and C.J. Cooper finished with 12 and 11 points, respectively, while Bohannon snagged a game-high 11 boards.

The Blue Raiders return to action Saturday, Jan. 18, hosting UTSA in Conference USA action at 5 p.m.

Follow the Blue Raiders on Twitter @MTAthletics for continued updates.