Two free throws by Chris Ortiz with six seconds remaining pulled the Golden Flashes (8-3) to within a single point. After UTEP's Omega Harris answered with two free throws, Kent State's Kris Brewer missed a desperation three-pointer with two seconds remaining. The Flashes still found one more chance to send the game to overtime as Devareaux Manley stole a pass and just missed another long prayer at the buzzer.
"I couldn't be prouder of our team and the effort they put forth tonight against a very good team on the road," said Kent State head coach Rob Senderoff. "Everyone who stepped on the floor played hard. Our guys showed great resolve and kept fighting all the way to the end. We just needed to make one more play. But UTEP is a really, really good team and we had two chances to tie it at the end."
Hall battled foul trouble all night long but managed to total 20 points and 10 rebounds in just 25 minutes on his way to all-tournament team honors. Jackson added 16 and Manley scored 13 for the Flashes.
"Jimmy's a good player. When he's focused and really in a good mindset, he's an excellent player. He showed that again tonight. I thought him picking up two early fouls in the first half really hurt us. Jimmy has been a huge addition for us this season and is going to be a big part of what we hope to accomplish."
UTEP won the game at the foul line, hitting 27 of 40 attempts. The Miners shot and made more free throws in the second half alone (17-for-28) than Kent State managed for the entire game (12-of-21).
"We shot 39 percent, they shot 50 percent and attempted twice as many free throws, and we still had chance to win the game," Senderoff said. "That's about all you can ask for. We were great on the glass in terms of offensive rebounds. We'll get better form this and continue to improve as the season goes along."
Vince Hunter accounted for more than half of UTEP's 15-point advantage at the foul line, going 8-for-13 on his way to a team-high 18 points. He also grabbed 16 rebounds.
The Miners made 52 percent of their shots (23-of-44) compared to just 39 percent by the Flashes (27-of-68). But Kent State outscored UTEP 16-8 while forcing 15 turnovers. The Flashes only turned the ball over seven times.
Despite getting out-rebounded 39-37, the Flashes had 14 offensive rebounds and outscored the Miners 12-6 in second-chance points.
Hunter led a group of five UTEP players in double figures. Cedric Lang and Matt Willms both added 12 points, former Kent State player Earvin Morris, Jr. added 11, and Julian Washburn scored 10 for the Miners (8-4).
"This game is definitely going to help us going forward, not just at Kansas, but in league play. We can look at this game and know that we're never out of the game. We just have to keep plugging and grinding and playing hard."
Kent State plays at Kansas on Dec. 30 before returning home for to face Texas-Pan American on Jan. 2 in the final non-conference game of the 2014-15 season. The Mid-American Conference slate begins Jan. 7 when Bowling Green visits the M.A.C. Center.
(Courtesy of KSU Athletics/MRO Edit)