McKenzie Moore drained a three-pointer from well beyond the three-point line as time ran out, giving UTEP a crucial 68-67 Conference USA road win at East Carolina on Saturday night.
Moore’s bucket lifted the Miners (11-7, 4-1 C-USA) into the lead for the first time since late in the first half, when they were up 25-24.
“We feel very fortunate, obviously,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “Anytime you make one like that at the end, you feel like you’ve got a horseshoe up your tail. It was a great win and it’s a spirited locker room, obviously. Our young team needed something like that. They’ve [East Carolina] got to be hurting. It’s very difficult when you play as well as they played all night long.”
UTEP tied the game at 65 on Moore’s jumper with 19 seconds left, but Miguel Paul, who led the Pirates with 20 points, drove for a layup with 4.4 seconds to play. Moore inbounded the ball to Jacques Streeter, who drew two defenders and kicked it back to Moore for the game winner.
“We told McKenzie that we wanted him to inbound it and sprint to the top of the key,” Floyd said. “We told Jacques that he was going to have a cleared side of the floor. We had Konner Tucker on the left hand side. The two guys that set the screen for Jacques were supposed to fly to the board and try to tip it back in. We told Jacques that we wanted him to try to go lay it up at the rim if he could, but if contained McKenzie would be trailing.
“I didn’t know he was going to shoot it from the halfcourt line. That wasn’t the idea. We were trying to get it to him at the top of the key.”
Whatever the result, it produced UTEP’s biggest road win of the season. East Carolina was held under 70 points for just the second time in 12 games at Minges Coliseum this season, dropping to 10-2 at home.
“Jacques did a good job drawing two people and threw it back out to me,” Moore said. “The last time I made a shot like that was probably in seventh grade. I was playing for Martinez Junior High and I made a half court shot at the buzzer at halftime against Dallas Ranch Middle School.”
Moore shot 3-for-4 from beyond the arc and scored 17 points. John Bohannon had a big game off the bench with 23 points. The Miners outrebounded East Carolina (12-7, 3-3 C-USA) 41-32 behind big nights on the boards from Bohannon (nine), Moore & Chris Washburn (eight) and Julian Washburn (six).
“I thought the foul trouble hurt their team,” Floyd said. “They had two guys [Ty Armstrong & Marshall Guilmette] foul out. I thought our ability to defensive board was important. We haven’t been that good of a rebounding team. We got some really big defensive rebounds when we needed them.”
East Carolina led by as many as nine points in the first half. The Miners trailed 30-28 at the intermission, tied the game on a Moore layup in the first minute of the second half, then played from behind up until the final seconds.
The Miners survived on a night where they made 16-of-27 free throws, and the Pirates connected on 20-of-21.
“It felt like one of those nights where you can’t win because we couldn’t make a free throw,” Floyd said.
One guy who did make his free throws was Bohannon, who finished 11-for-14 at the stripe – including 7-for-9 in the second half. He matched Paul with 15 second-half points.
“Bohannon hasn’t made free throws all year,” Floyd said. “He lost a contact tonight and I think that’s why he made them. That was a big key to the game.”
“It was a back and forth game,” Bohannon said. “We knew it was going to be tough. East Carolina is an explosive team. Being up here two years ago [an 83-76 loss], I knew it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk. There isn’t any road game in this conference that is easy. We kept fighting. We grew as a team today and we found a way to get the win on a big shot by Mac.”
While Paul burned the Miners for 20 points, Conference USA’s leading scorer, Maurice Kemp, finished with 10 on 3-for-13 shooting.
“Kemp didn’t get off. That was a very big part of what we were trying to do,” Floyd said. “We treated Paul with great respect and tried to shade him and keep the ball out of his hands. They utilized the screen and roll so well all night long and continued to get him great looks. He’s a terrific player, and we didn’t have a real answer for him tonight.”
The Miners climbed toA 2-1 on the road in C-USA action. Now it’s off to UAB, where they’ll try to complete a perfect road trip with a victory over the Blazers on Wednesday.
“It was a great win, especially when we were down most of the game,” Moore said. “We showed a lot of toughness. We stuck together, listened to coach and ran the plays.
“When we got to the locker room, it felt really good. This is big for us, going +2 going to UAB. We just need to put this game behind us. It was a great play at the end. Coach drew up a great play and we executed, but we have to move on to the next game and try to get better as a team.”