UTEP reaches Atlantis semis, tops Tennessee 78-70
PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — Tim Floyd was getting plenty of attention before the Battle 4 Atlantis even started, for all the wrong reasons.
A good win certainly put him in a more cheery mood.
McKenzie Moore led a balanced attack with 19 points and UTEP moved into tournament semifinals with a 78-70 win over Tennessee on Thursday night, the victory coming one night after Floyd and Southern California coach Andy Enfield were involved in a verbal altercation at a pre-tourney reception.
“We played like our last game, our loss to New Mexico State, bothered us,” Floyd said. “And it should have bothered us.”
That clearly wasn’t the only thing bothering the Miners this week.
Floyd and Enfield were among those exchanging some heated words Wednesday, as months of back-and-forth between the programs came to a head. Floyd called Enfield in April because he thought USC was tampering with a UTEP signee who wound up signing with UCLA. And in recent days, Enfield had some harsh comments about Floyd, telling Men’s Journal that the UTEP coach “shows up every day at work and realizes he lives in El Paso, Texas. And he’s (angry) that he didn’t get the USC job.”
Floyd is a former USC coach. Enfield said he was reaching out to apologize to Floyd on Wednesday night, when the mood immediately soured.
“I don’t see reason to talk,” Floyd said Thursday night. “It’s over with. It’s over with, that’s for sure. That’s for sure. ... I damn sure didn’t appreciate the comments he made last week, publicly about El Paso, Texas.”
Floyd has deep, long-standing family ties to El Paso, and said if Enfield wanted to apologize he should have called weeks earlier.
His team had little to apologize to Floyd about, however.
John Bohannon scored 16, while Julian Washburn and Justin Crosgile each had 12 for the Miners, who had shot 41 percent in their last two games but came out sizzling against the Volunteers.
UTEP (4-2) plays No. 23 Iowa on Friday night for a berth in the title game. Tennessee (3-2) faces Xavier in the consolation round.
“Tennessee was a Top 25 team starting the season and we just came off a tough loss to New Mexico State so we needed this win,” Washburn said. “I’m glad we got it.”
Jordan McRae scored 22 points for the Volunteers, who will be facing Xavier for the second time in 2½ weeks. Xavier beat Tennessee 67-63 on Nov. 12, and the teams even shared the same charter flight from the U.S. to the Bahamas earlier this week.
Jarnell Stokes finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds for Tennessee, which got 13 points from Josh Richardson.
“Tough loss. Give UTEP credit,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “They played well. They competed from start to finish.”
Tennessee had its share of chances. Midway through the second half, the Vols were shooting 14 for 43 from the field, a putrid 11 for 22 from the foul line — and were only down 52-42, easily within striking distance.
They just couldn’t get anything going, looking nothing like the team that averaged 87 points in its two most recent games before arriving in the Bahamas.
That is, until six quick points got a 15-point UTEP lead back into single digits, with a dunk by McRae cutting the Miners’ edge to 60-51. Tennessee was within six after a pair of free throws by McRae with 2:35 left, and the Vols almost forced a turnover with their press on the next possession.
Key word: Almost.
After the Miners barely beat the 10-second clock to get the ball past midcourt, Crosgile hit a 3-pointer to restore the nine-point lead.
“Didn’t rebound it great, didn’t make free throws down the stretch,” Floyd said. “But we survived.”
UTEP went on a 16-5 run late in the first half, turning a 21-20 deficit into a 36-26 lead after a pair of jumpers by Bohannon ended the quick spurt that gave the Miners a cushion.
More than anything, it was the Miners’ defense that was proving most critical. UTEP was outrebounded 27-15 in the opening 20 minutes (15-3 on the offensive glass alone), took only four free throws to Tennessee’s 16, but the key was that the Miners were just opportunistic. Tennessee had seven turnovers in the first half, hardly that bad a number — but UTEP turned those miscues into 11 points.
If losing wasn’t tough enough for Tennessee, the turnaround from Thursday to Friday might also be difficult. The Vols’ game with UTEP ended at 12:16 a.m.; their game with Xavier is a 1 p.m. start.
“I just know we’ve got to be ready to play,” Richardson said.