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Cougars collapse after fast start against UTEP

The Houston Cougars' Jekyll and Hyde ways continued against the UTEP Miners on Wednesday night in El Paso.

This time Mr. Hyde showed up, as the Cougars fell to the Miners 65-58 at Don Haskins Center.

UH (11-10, 4-4 Conference USA) successfully competed with a two-forward lineup for much of Saturday's win over Marshall, holding the Thundering Herd's post players to below-average statistics — a sign that the Cougars were improving in the paint.

But on Wednesday, UTEP (16-5, 7-1) forward Derrick Caracter exposed UH's interior defense en route to grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds and scoring 22 points.

Caracter's performance was only part of the Miners' success around the basket. They won the points-in-the-paint battle by a staggering margin (42-18), and scored 17 second-chance points.

Despite struggling in the paint, the Cougars' quick guards snatched enough rebounds and forced enough turnovers to keep UH from fading in the second half.

Caracter, a transfer from Louisville, gave UTEP a 61-56 lead when he hit a short jumper with 2:05 left in the game. However, UH still had a chance after Aubrey Coleman responded with a jumper that put the score at 61-58.

The Cougars got the stop they needed on the Miners' next possession. They just couldn't create the shot that they wanted on their next possession.

Freshman forward Kendrick Washington missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer from the corner with 41 seconds left, allowing UTEP to extend its win streak to six games.

The Miners claimed their biggest lead of the game, 51-45, on Randy Culpepper's layup with 7:22 left to play.

Coleman, who scored a game-high 23 points, answered by scoring six of the game's next eight points to cut the Cougars' deficit to 53-51 with 4:23 remaining. Coleman continued his late-game surge on UH's next possession, as he nailed a trey that pulled the Cougars within 55-54.

After leading for the entire night, the Cougars finally fell behind, 39-38, on Arnett Moultrie's mid-range jumper with 14:12 remaining.

This proved to be only one significant play in an 11-0 run that gave UTEP a 43-38 lead with 11:49 left to play. Caracter was the most significant player during this period, as he abused UH in the paint for seven points and four rebounds.

UH dominated the start of the first half, jumping out to an 8-0 lead after converting consecutive steals by Coleman and Maurice McNeil into five points.

UTEP woke up soon after, outscoring the Cougars 13-8 over the next 7:30 to pull within 16-13.

UH forced a couple of quick turnovers to push the tempo back into its favor. Moments later, Coleman finished a 12-1 run with a Tomahawk slam that quieted the spirited crowd at the Don Haskins Center.

With UH holding a 28-14 advantage with 6:26 remaining before halftime, the Miners' five-game win streak appeared in jeopardy.

But the Cougars' offense stalled at the end of the first half, as UH missed eight of its last nine shot attempts before halftime. UTEP took full advantage, going on a 12-2 run to creep within 30-26 at halftime.

The Miners certainly displayed a distinct size advantage in the first 20 minutes. They won the points-in-the-paint category, 14-8, and out-rebounded the Cougars, 23-14.

UH will return home to host Southern Miss at 5 p.m. Saturday inside Hofheinz Pavilion.

mattmiller713@yahoo.com

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