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Dec. 21, 2007
EL PASO, Tex. - USC Upstate could not overcome 32 turnovers and a 40-8 deficit in points off turnovers as UTEP held off a gutsy Spartans club, 77-69, in the opening game of the State Farm Sun Bowl Tournament at the Haskins Center Friday night.
Upstate falls to 2-9 and will play Saturday at 5:00 p.m. against the loser of the Buffalo-Wyoming game which takes place Friday night. UTEP improves to 7-2 and will play in the championship game against the winner of the Buffalo-Wyoming game Saturday night at 7:00.
Upstate fell victim to a pair of 10-0 runs to start each half. The Spartans were able to overcome the first half drought to take a halftime lead. However, Upstate could not overcome the scoring drought to start the second half.
"I am proud of our kids and the effort they put in tonight," said head coach Eddie Payne. We didn't play very smart. I think this is the first time I have ever had a team commit 32 turnovers. Having said that, I am proud of how hard our kids competed. We just weren't smart with the ball."
In the first half, Upstate withstood an ugly start to fight back to take a 31-30 lead at halftime. UTEP used seven Upstate turnovers to score the first 10 points of the game to open a 10-0 lead with 15:38 to play. The Miners held the Spartans scoreless until Luke Payne nailed a jumper with 14:43 to play to cut the UTEP lead to 10-2.
Josh Chavis sank back-to-back jumpers to cut the UTEP lead to six, 12-6, with 12:34 to play in the half. After the Miners pushed the lead to 11 at 17-6, Upstate battled back with eight straight points to cut the UTEP lead to three with 8:27 to go.
Stefon Jackson stopped the Upstate run with a pair of free throws and Marvin Kilgore converted a layup to push the UTEP lead to seven, 21-14, with just under eight minutes to play.
Payne converted a layup and Mezie Uzochukwu nailed a three-pointer to get Upstate within two, 21-19, with 7:27 to play in the half. Nick Schneiders' hook shot got the Spartans within one, 24-23, with 4:51 to play and Bobby Davis' free throw with 4:33 to play tied the game at 24-24.
After UTEP opened a 28-26 lead, Zac Rich gave Upstate its first lead of the game, 29-28, with 2:06 to play and Davis' free throws with 1:47 to go gave the Spartans their second lead of the game at 31-30.
Upstate had to battle through foul trouble in the first half. Starting point guard Jeremy Byrd picked up his third foul of the game with a little over nine minutes to play and Uzochukwu picked up his third foul with 4:46 to play in the half.
Upstate turned the ball over 17 times in the first half, allowing UTEP to hold a 16-2 advantage in points off turnovers. However, the Spartans made up for it with a strong 2-3 zone which held the Miners to 32 percent shooting for the half. The Spartans shot the ball well, hitting 48 percent from the floor.
Upstate again struggled to open the second half, failing to score until Rashawn Brailsford's three-pointer at the 15:09 mark. By the time Brailsford made the shot, UTEP had rattled off 10 straight points to open a 40-31 lead. Brailsford's three ball cut the lead to six, 40-34.
UTEP outscored Upstate 7-3 over the next three minutes to open a 10-point advantage, 47-37, with 13:05 to play in the game. The Miner lead stayed around 10 points for the next six minutes, heading into the under-eight media timeout with a 55-46 lead over the Spartans.
Davis cut the UTEP lead to seven, 57-50, with 6:09 to play, but Randy Culpepper nailed three straight three-pointers to push the lead to 14, 66-52, with 4:38 remaining in the game. The Culpepper spurt effectively put the game away for UTEP.
However, Upstate used fouls and defensive pressure to push UTEP to the limit. Byrd converted a layup and, after a UTEP turnover, Rich nailed a three-pointer to get the Spartans within seven, 71-64, with 46 seconds to play. Upstate cut the lead to six on a Justin Houser jumper, but the Spartans could get no closer as UTEP held on for the win.
UTEP shot 60 percent from the floor in the second half, hitting 4-of-8 from three-point territory, and forced Upstate into an additional 15 turnovers to give the Spartans 32 for the night.
Davis led the way for Upstate, finishing with his second double-double of the season. Payne added 11, while Rich finished with nine points on 3-of-3 shooting from behind the arc.
Jackson led UTEP with 26 points and eight rebounds. Culpepper added 16, while Kilgore finished with 10.