TULSA, Okla. -- If this one had been a beauty contest, they would have stopped it.
The game was that ugly.
But, from another perspective, it was a fiercely beautiful defensive duel ... one that filtered down to one last stop, one last desperation 3-point attempt by UTEP's Konner Tucker.
But, just as most of the shots had done all night, Tucker's hurried, contested 3-pointer with only a pair of seconds left banged harmlessly off the rim.
And Tulsa escaped.
The Golden Hurricane hung on to edge the Miners 45-42 Wednesday night in the Donald W. Reynolds Center in front of a small, but feisty, crowd of 4,333. It was a game where shots were few and made shots were even fewer.
UTEP made just 16-of-51 shots for an icicle-ridden 31.4 percent. The Miners made just 4-of-20 from 3-point land for an Antarctic-like 20 percent. And the Miners made just 6-of-11 free throws for a frigid 54.5 percent.
"Tulsa guarded us about as hard as anybody we've played all year," UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. "And, to this point, we've played the toughest schedule in the nation. Our shooting percentage reflected their intensity, their defense."
No one escaped the Tulsa defense and no one was immune to a night when the rock simply would not drop. The Miners missed 3-pointers, but they also missed 10- and 15-footers and they also missed several shots in and around the bucket.
Tucker, who nailed a 3-ball late to give this team a chance, had that one last shot. The Miners forced a Tulsa turnover with full-court pressure, and Floyd, always the strategist, bought a few seconds to draw up a play by asking the officials to check the time on the game clock. They did, confirming that there were four seconds left, and the Miners ran one final play.
Tucker fought through a crowd in the lane and Jacques Streeter floated a lob to him at the top of the circle. Tucker pump faked and got it up, but there were two Tulsa defenders draped all over him.
"I'm pretty sure they knew where it was going," Tucker said. "I was able to get it off, but they were right there. It was a little bit off balanced. It was a tough night for me shooting."
It was a tough night for everyone. Tucker was 3-for-13, McKenzie Moore was 3-for-10, Streeter was 2-for-9.
But the Miners almost defended their way to a victory. Tulsa had to work most of the shot clock on possession after possession and finished at 40 percent, making just 18-of-45 shots. Tulsa made just 2-of-7 from beyond the arc and just 7-of-11 from the free-throw line.
John Bohannon was UTEP's only double-figure scorer, finishing with 11 points and nine rebounds. Moore had eight points, Tucker seven.
"You've got to expect nights like that coming on the road," Bohannon said. "I take responsibility for not letting the young guys know there are no easy road games in Conference USA. We had a couple of breakdowns at the end we would have liked to have had back, but overall we played good defense."
UTEP's Cedrick Lang shook his head and said, "We just couldn't buy a basket. But we were still in the game. We shot 30 percent and we still had a chance. I guess that's one way to look at it. If we shoot 40 percent, we win that game. And we needed that game."
The Miners are now 9-7 overall and 2-1 in conference play, while Tulsa improved to 11-7 overall and 3-1 in the league race.
The scoring in this game looked almost as if someone had stolen the shot clocks. Tulsa led 21-20 at the half. UTEP led 30-28 with 10 minutes to play. Tulsa led 32-30 with eight minutes to go. The Golden Hurricane got their biggest lead at 38-31 with five minutes to go. But the Miners reeled them back in, cutting it to 40-38 with two minutes to play.
And then it all funneled down to one final scramble, one final highly contested 3-point attempt by Tucker.
Shaking his head, Bohannon said, "Sometimes the ball doesn't go your way, but you can defend your way out of it. But, when it came to winning time, we just didn't get it done."
The total 87 points in this game was a record for fewest combined points in the 15-year history of the Reynolds Center.
It was, indeed, no beauty contest. But, when the final shot clanged, it looked quite a bit prettier to Tulsa than it did to UTEP.
Bill Knight may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6171. Follow him on Twitter @BillKnightept