El Paso, TX — Perry Ellis scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half, as second-ranked Kansas survived another scare and held on for a 67-63 win over UTEP on Saturday in the Battle 4 Atlantis third-place game.
The Jayhawks (6-1) led by as many as 15 points in the second half before the Miners (4-4) closed the game with a fury.
A three-pointer by McKenzie Moore pulled UTEP within nine points (59-50) with 1:22 to play. Following a turnover by Ellis, Justin Crosgile drove for a layup to close the gap to seven (59-52). A jumper by Vince Hunter made the score 59-54 with 38 seconds left. Ellis made two free throws to push the lead to seven (61-54) with a half-minute left, but the Miners wouldn’t go away. Crosgile buried a three at the 28-second mark, and it was suddenly a four-point game (61-57).
Again, Ellis answered with two foul shots. Crosgile split two free throws of his own with 23 seconds left, and the Miners trailed 63-58. Following two free throws by the Jayhawks’ Frank Mason, Moore’s dunk sliced the lead to five (65-60) with 12 ticks on the clock.
Kansas’ Naadir Tharpe was fouled and made the second of two free throws. Moore was fouled on a three-point attempt at the other end of the floor, and made all three freebies to make it a one possession game (66-63) with seven seconds to go.
The Miners couldn’t force a turnover on the inbound pass, Ellis made a free throw to complete the scoring and Moore missed a running three pointer as time ran out.
“We got beat by a fine team tonight,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “They’re going to do a lot of things in the NCAA Tournament this year. We didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for them in terms of guarding their great man stuff. They are a very good man-to-man offensive team. We chose to play our triangle because of our lack of preparation time. I thought the biggest reason we were able to hang around in the game was we were able to get back on defense tonight.”
The Miners limited the Jayhawks to 39.3 percent shooting, 24 hours after Iowa blitzed them for 89 points in the semifinals.
“We probably gave up a school record in layups last night,” Floyd said. “Our guys fought. On the third day of the tournament, you find out a little about your makeup and your guys, and I was real pleased with our effort throughout the night.”
Moore scored 11 of his team-leading 15 points in the second half. Crosgile added 14 points and Vince Hunter, in limited duty (10 minutes) due to foul trouble, contributed 10 points and five rebounds.
Wayne Selden Jr. scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half for the Jayhawks. Tharpe scored 11 points and 7-0 freshman Joel Embiid was a major factor inside with nine points, six rebounds and seven blocks. Kansas had 11 rejections as a team.
“Kansas’ length got us,” Floyd said. “Our inability to make free throws [14-of-24] impacted the game as well. I think we had the same amount of field goals, we hung around there on the boards [41-35] but we shot a poor percentage. We were able to get to the line enough to give ourselves a chance.”
The Miners were also victimized by poor starts to both halves. UTEP missed its first six shots of the game and fell behind 15-2 in the opening nine minutes. The Miners started the second half 0-for-9 from the field.
Overall, however, it was an encouraging performance in the Bahamas with a win over a strong SEC squad (Tennessee) and a nail-biting loss to no. 2 Kansas sandwiched around a disappointing effort against the 23rd-ranked Hawkeyes.
“I think [our guys are] going to leave here feeling like they can compete. I really do,” Floyd said. “And that’s important. That’s why we’re always going to try to play in these kinds of venues. I think tonight is when we really learned about ourselves, because we really stunk it up last night, as bad as any one of my teams has ever played. I didn’t like anything about us. I didn’t like our body language, I didn’t like us late in the game, and I didn’t like our competitive level. And we had a chance to do that again tonight.
“I feel like I gained some trust in who they are. If we had a three or a two go down late and some free throws, it could’ve been a little different.”
The Miners will take a week-long break between games before returning to action with a home game versus Sacramento State on Saturday, Dec. 7 at 7:05 p.m. The UTEP women will tip off the doubleheader against SMU at 4:30 p.m.