EL PASO, Texas — The Eastern New Mexico University men’s basketball team nearly pulled off an impressive upset Saturday night, albeit in a preseason exhibition.
ENMU led most of the first half, including an eight-point margin with under five minutes left, before Texas-El Paso rallied for an 80-76 victory before nearly 7,000 fans.
The Miners were the Conference USA regular-season champions a year ago and qualified for the NCAA tournament. They built a 16-point lead with under eight minutes to go, but the Hounds got within three on a 3-pointer by junior guard Stefan Mirabel with nine seconds left.
A free throw by 6-foot-7 junior guard-forward Gabriel McCulley sealed it with seven seconds to go.
Claude Britten, a 6-7 senior center, came off the bench to lead four Miners in double figures with 18 points while senior guard Randy Culpepper, the reigning C-USA player of the year, finished with 15.
Senior guard Victor Reid, an El Paso native, led the Hounds with 17 points while freshman guard Michael Maya added 12. They combined for seven 3-pointers as the Hounds stayed close by shooting 15-of-40 from beyond the arc.
ENMU used an 8-0 run that included 3-pointers by Reid and Tralyn Harden for an early 8-2 lead. UTEP briefly pulled even at 10-10, but the Hounds regained the lead with five consecutive points and led and opened a 25-17 lead on a jumper by Reid with 4:52 left in the half.
The Miners rallied back for a 28-26 lead. Reid added another 3-pointer at the 1:34 mark to put the Hounds back in front, but two free throws each by Julyan Stone and Christian Polk put UTEP ahead 32-29 at the break.
ENMU never regained the lead, but was still close when the Miners took off on an 11-0 run for a 62-46 cushion with 7:43 left. The Hounds answered with an 11-1 surge to get within six.
Maya’s 3-pointer made it 74-70 with 1:13 left, but Stone’s dunk with 13 seconds to go gave UTEP a six-point lead and the Miners were able to hang on.
ENMU has two more exhibitions on tap this week, at New Mexico on Wednesday and at New Mexico State on Nov. 8, before opening the regular season at home on Nov. 12 against Northern New Mexico.