Greg Smith scored 14 of his 18 points in the first half, and Colton Iverson dominated inside in the second half as Colorado State extended its homecourt winning streak to 21 games with a 62-58 victory over UTEP on Wednesday.
The Miners (6-6) had their chances against a Colorado State squad (12-2) that had won its last five games by 17 points or more, but couldn’t finish it off after taking a couple of one-point leads in the final three and a half minutes.
UTEP fell behind by 10 points at the half (29-19) after shooting 22 percent from the field. The Miners were down by 13 (36-23) with 16:42 remaining and trailed by nine (45-36) with 9:16 to go before engineering a 17-7 run that put them ahead 53-52 with 3:27 left.
Julian Washburn and McKenzie Moore combined to score 14 of the Miners’ 17 points during the spurt. Washburn’s layup at the 3:27 mark lifted UTEP into its first lead since 7-6 early in the first half.
After Wes Eikmeier made two free throws to reinstate a 54-53 lead for CSU, Moore scored a layup to give UTEP its final advantage of 55-54 with 2:47 to go.
Iverson immediately answered with a jumper and, following misses by Washburn and Konner Tucker, Eikmeier extended the Rams’ lead to 58-55 on a basket with 46 seconds left.
An Iverson dunk with 17 seconds remaining increased the margin to five (60-55). A three-pointer by Washburn with 10 seconds left was too little, too late, and Smith closed it out with free throws.
“We were terrible in the first half as a result of their defense. We just couldn’t get a handle on them because of their physicalness and how well they had us scouted,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “They did a great job defensively. We were able to get into the open floor [in the second half] because we defensive rebounded.”
The Miners were much more efficient offensively over the final 20 minutes, shooting 50 percent and outscoring the Rams 39-33. They also matched Colorado State on the boards in the second half (15-15). The Rams, national leaders in rebound margin, out-boarded their 14th consecutive opponent by the count of 37-30.
“I was proud of the fact that we didn’t lay down being down 10,” Floyd said. “We rebounded even with them in the second half, which was a real key. It was nice to see McKenzie get his head up offensively after two quick turnovers in the first half. He settled down and played better in the second half. We had a questionable shot or two late that we’d probably like to have back. We took some threes where we probably could’ve gotten twos.”
Iverson (11 points) and Eikmeier (10) accounted for 21 of Colorado State’s 33 second half points. Iverson finished with 17 and Eikmeier 12. Pierce Hornung led the Rams with 10 rebounds.
“We did a decent job on Iverson in the first half,” Floyd said. “Smith killed us in the first half driving against our bigs, and Iverson killed us in the post in the second half.”
Washburn picked up his third career 20-point game, scoring 16 of his 22 points in the second half. Moore scored 13 of his 15 points in the second period.
“That’s the best second half that Julian has played, and the best road game,” Floyd said. “He didn’t get a lot accomplished in the first half and I thought he was a lot better in the second half.”
Jacques Streeter added 12 points for the Miners, who had their three-game winning streak snapped. UTEP will tip off Conference USA play next Wednesday at Tulane.