FRISCO, Texas (KTSM) – It was, in a way, a microcosm of UTEP’s entire 2021-22 season in the first campaign of Joe Golding’s tenure in El Paso.
UTEP fought tooth and nail against Middle Tennessee in the Conference USA Tournament quarterfinals on Thursday night in Frisco, but the Miners ultimately ran out of gas in overtime, falling to the Blue Raiders, 66-59.
It was a dejected UTEP team that walked off the court in Frisco, ending Joe Golding’s first season in El Paso at 19-14. It’s also a Miners team that made a ton of progress and changed the narrative of the program in year one under Golding.
“I just feel for those guys, they laid it on the line and they did it all year,” said Golding. “They’ve been through a lot all year. For them to leave it all out there and have a chance to win the game, I’m super proud of them.”
The Miners got off to a slow start, trailing 25-21 at halftime while shooting under 41 percent from the floor. Then, a 9-1 run by Middle Tennessee to open the second half put UTEP in a big hole, 34-22, with under 16 minutes to play.
At that point, UTEP finally woke up. The Miners uncorked an 18-4 run over the next eight minutes to take their first lead since early in the first half at 40-38, on a Souley Boum steal and lay-up.
UTEP took its largest lead of the second half at 45-41 with 4:46 remaining on a Boum three-point play and it looked like they might make it out of the game with a win. However, Middle Tennessee didn’t go away, rallying to take a 49-47 lead with 1:37 left.
Jamari Sibley drilled a big corner three 15 seconds later to put UTEP back in front 50-49, then after a pair of Blue Raider free throws, Keonte Kennedy put UTEP ahead again, 52-51 with 41 seconds left.
Deandre Dishman hit a free throw with 23 seconds left to tie the game at 52. The Miners got a great look to win the game with under five seconds left in regulation, but Kennedy’s shot rolled off the rim.
In the overtime, the Miners never managed to regain the lead, though they did tie it up a few times, before eventually falling to the Blue Raiders.
Jamal Bieniemy had 13 points to lead the Miners; Boum scored 12 points, all in the second half and Kennedy had 11 points.
“When it’s heartbreaking, that means you’re invested and you care about something,” Golding said. “There’s a lot of locker rooms where when you lose guys get out of there as fast as they can, and that’s not the case here. These guys cared about each other, UTEP and El Paso and it showed on the floor tonight.”
The Miners were looking to punch their ticket to the C-USA Tournament semifinals for the first time in five years, but were unable to do so. UTEP also finishes the regular season shy of 20 wins for the seventh consecutive season.
There had been rumors for weeks that UTEP could potentially be selected for some kind of postseason tournament. On the postgame radio show on 600 ESPN El Paso, Golding said he wasn’t sure about that yet, but at that moment, he was, “leaning towards not” having his team play in any postseason tournament.
If the Miners do indeed opt out of postseason play, Golding and his coaching staff will immediately begin building the roster for the 2022-23 season. Golding said he and his staff would be at the junior college national championships in Kansas next week.
“I’m humbled and honored to be the head coach at UTEP and we’re just getting started,” Golding said. “We’re nine months in and we’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a lot of work to do in the next three or four months to keep this program going in the right direction.”