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January 15, 2009EL PASO - After winning six of their last seven games, UTEP dropped their first conference home game, 94-86, against the Houston Cougars Wednesday night at the Don Haskins Center.
"We came out flat, we weren't ready to play, we weren't intense," head coach Tony Barbee said. "They came in here they wanted it more than us and they took it; that right there is the ball game."
The in-state rivalry involving UTEP and Houston had been dominated by the home team. Previously, UTEP had won all seven games against Houston in El Paso. Tonight the Miners did not show up and play to their potential which led to their first conference home loss.
"Next step we got to take is learning how to handle success, we're not handling the success very well," Barbee said.
Defensively UTEP (10-6, 1-1 Conference USA) looked several steps behind and Houston took advantage. Kelvin Lewis led the Cougars with 29 points, getting to the line 18 times, making 17 of those attempts. The rest of the Cougars starting five were all in double figures: Aubrey Coleman (24), Qa'rraan Calhoun (15), Desmond Wade (12) and Marcus Cousin (10).
"We were stuck in mud tonight," Barbee said. "A step behind everything they were trying to do. They don't do anything sophisticated, they take the ball give it to a player and he comes at you and makes a play we couldn't stop it."
UTEP began the game attacking Houston (11-3, 2-0 C-USA) through the post with center Kareem Cooper. The 7-footer earned every one of his 13 points in the first half, taking one or two defenders with him to the rim. Teammates Randy Culpepper and Stefon Jackson pitched in 7 and 9 points respectively, but it wasn't enough because both teams were tied at the half.
"I don't really know why we came out flat but whatever it was we just got to fix it because we are about to go on a two game road trip so whatever it was we got go to the drawing board," Jackson said.
After the break the Miners came out sluggish and as the seconds ticked down, the Cougars lead kept rising, up to a game high 14 with 10 minutes to play. UTEP attempted a comeback sparked by inspired play from Culpepper, the Miners went on a 11-O run that diminished the Cougars double-digit lead to within four points. But just as the Miners started to see daylight, the door was shut and Houston gained a 94-86 win.
"Houston came out and wanted it more than we did, we came out and during crunch time broke down defensively so we couldn't get back in it, it was too late," Culpepper said.
The duo of Jackson and Culpepper ended the night with 27 and 16 points respectively. Cooper finished with a career high 21 points.
The only silver lining UTEP fans can seemingly get out of this loss is that the team will be ready to play against Eastern Carolina.
"We can use this loss as motivation because no one likes losing," Jackson said. "As you can see the team is down right now, after a loss like this, everyone is disappointed."
Christopher Stephen Silva is a staff writer for MinerDigs.net. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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