PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) They slowed it down to a crawl in the beginning, then went as fast as they could at the end.
An unconventional night for Texas-El Paso nearly led to the Miners getting a huge upset.
Down by 14 with 2:21 left, the Miners went on a frantic closing spurt that fell just short, and UTEP was beaten by No. 2 Kansas 67-63 on Saturday night in the third-place game at the Battle 4 Atlantis.
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“Let me just say that we got beat by a fine team tonight,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “And they’re going to do a lot of things, I think, in the NCAA tournament this year.”
McKenzie Moore scored 15 for UTEP (4-4), including three free throws with 6.8 seconds remaining to get the Miners within three. Justin Crosgile scored 14 points and Vince Hunter added 10 the Miners, who held Kansas to 39 percent shooting.
“I was real pleased with the effort,” Floyd said.
Perry Ellis scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half, Wayne Selden Jr. scored 14 and Joel Embiid came off the bench to add nine points, seven blocked shots — all in the second half — and six rebounds for the Jayhawks (6-1), who will likely drop from the No. 2 spot in the national rankings this coming week.
Still, the Jayhawks will likely be on everybody’s list of must-watch teams come March, and that gives Floyd plenty of hope for the Miners’ season.
“We have a long ways to go to become a good basketball team,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “And that’s not all bad, either. We rarely have great teams in November. But we’re not as good as we were 17, 18 days ago. So that’s a little frustrating that we’ve gone backwards. We didn’t play well at all over here.”
Naadir Tharpe added 11 for the Jayhawks, who never trailed. The Jayhawks won despite Andrew Wiggins being held to six points, nearly 10 below the freshman’s season average.
It was the second straight night where Kansas saw a big early lead, 11-2 against Villanova and 15-2 against UTEP, evaporate and the game turn into a struggle.
The finish saw UTEP scoring 13 points in just over a minute and carving away most of a late 14-point Jayhawk lead, but Kansas had enough.
Barely, but enough.
And if UTEP had been better from the line, it might have been a different story — the Miners missed 10 of 24 tries from the stripe.
Kansas led by 15 in the second half, and after a series of UTEP rallies, the Jayhawks were still up by 14 following Ellis’ jumper from the right wing with 2:21 left.
It was 59-45 at that point. It was 18-8 UTEP the rest of the way, a far cry from how the Miners started the night.
On UTEP’s first possession, Floyd — who isn’t exactly shy about going against convention, with his box-and-one and triangle-and-two defenses on display often in the Bahamas — did something hardly ever seen anymore, especially at the start of games.
He stalled, though said afterward that it wasn’t a true stall, just a set with hopes of creating 3-on-2 mismatches or open drives.
Think the old North Carolina “four corners,” or something akin to it, anyway. That’s what the Miners did in the opening minutes, running an average of 30.1 seconds off the 35-second shot clock on their first nine possessions. Simple logic, really — the fewer possessions Kansas had, the fewer chances it would have to score.
It only sort of worked.
After 5 1/2 minutes, Kansas had only two points.
In that same span, the Miners had zero points.
“It was different … but I thought we adjusted well,” Ellis said.
The Miners missed their first six shots and didn’t get on the board until 12:35 remained in the half, a drive by C.J. Cooper snapping an 0 for 6 start by UTEP and cutting Kansas’ lead to 7-2. By the time UTEP scored again, Kansas had already pushed the lead out to 15-2, running off eight straight. And along the way, UTEP ditched the ploy and just started playing.
That’s when it became a game, for really the first time. UTEP went on an 18-11 spurt, getting within 26-20 late in the half. Wiggins — who had been scoreless until then — scored six straight to give Kansas a 12-point lead with 1:30 left, and Selden’s acrobatic drive gave the Jayhawks a 34-25 lead at the break.
But UTEP hung around, all the way to the end.
“We didn’t want to leave here without getting better for the rest of the season,” Hunter said. “I believe we did. I believe we got better, playing the No. 2 team in the country.”