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February 26, 2009EL PASO - The UTEP men's basketball team overcame a 10-point halftime deficit to pull out a 61-58 overtime victory, giving head coach Tony Barbee his 50th win of his career and sweep the season series against SMU at the Don Haskins Center.
"In the second half our guys showed the toughness, the grit, the will to win," Barbee said. "Down 15 (points), we could have hung our head and said there's no way we're going to win this game."
The Miners (17-10, 8-5 Conference USA), who are fresh off a disappointing home loss to Memphis, started the game out flat for the second consecutive game. UTEP struggled offensively, shooting 22 percent from the field within the first six minutes of play.
SMU (8-18, 2-11 in C-USA) went toe-to-toe with the Miners all game. SMU junior guard Derek Williams, led the Mustangs with 13 points followed by senior center Bamba Fall with 12.
The Mustangs took their first lead (21-19) of the game with less than three minutes remaining in the first half, en route to a 30-20 advantage at halftime.
UTEP would counter by playing great defense and going on a 31-21 run to tie the game at 51 with 3:25 left in the game. UTEP senior guard Stefon Jackson, led the Miners with 28 points, including 11 from the free throw line. Fellow senior Tavaris Watts scored 14 points and recorded a career high nine rebounds, igniting the Miners' offense.
"I just wanted to step up and give us a spark so we could get a W (win)," Watts said. "Got only three more wins to get twenty wins, since I have been here I have never had twenty wins."
The Miners took the 55-53 lead after a Jackson layup attempt with 1:48 left in the game, but that lead was short lived. The Mustangs tied the score at 55 with 27 seconds left, setting the stage for late-game heroics. Coach Barbee called a timeout and drew up a last-second play for Jackson. UTEP's all-time leading scorer drove towards the basket, pulled up to shoot an 18-foot jumper but missed, sending the game to overtime.
As overtime commenced, Watts cut to the basket and created a wide open lay-up opportunity for himself, giving UTEP a two-point lead. On the next possession Jackson put the nail in the coffin as he banked a three-pointer as the shot clock expired. The 3-pointer was Jackson's 100th of his college career, but more importantly helped UTEP clinch the 61-58 victory.
"We found a way to dig out a victory," Barbee said.
UTEP held the Mustangs to a paltry 29.2 shooting percent from the field and created 22 turnovers, turning them into 19 points. UTEP outscored the Mustangs 6-3 in overtime.
The Miners will travel to New Orleans, La., to face the Tulane Green Wave (12-16, 5-8 C-USA). The Green Wave is riding a two-game winning streak after defeating Marshall and Southern Miss.
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Christopher Stephen Silva is a staff writer for MinerDigs.net. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org