PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — McKenzie Moore led a balanced attack with 19 points and Texas-El Paso moved into the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis with a 78-70 win over Tennessee on Thursday night.
UTEP (4-2) plays No. 23 Iowa on Friday night for a berth in the title game. Tennessee (3-2) faces Xavier in the consolation round.
John Bohannon scored 16, while Julian Washburn and Justin Crosgile each had 12 for the Miners, who had shot 41 percent in their last two games but came out sizzling against the Volunteers.
Jordan McRae scored 22 points for the Volunteers, who will be facing Xavier for the second time in 2½ weeks. Xavier beat Tennessee 67-63 on Nov. 12, and the teams even shared the same charter flight from the U.S. to the Bahamas earlier this week.
Jarnell Stokes finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds for Tennessee, which got 13 points from Josh Richardson.
Tennessee had its share of chances. Midway through the second half, the Vols were shooting 14 for 43 from the field, a putrid 11 for 22 from the foul line — and were down only 52-42, easily within striking distance.
They just couldn’t get anything going, looking nothing like the team that averaged 87 points in its two most recent games before arriving in the Bahamas.
That is, until six quick points got a 15-point UTEP lead back into single digits, with a dunk by McRae cutting the Miners’ edge to 60-51. Tennessee was within six after a pair of free throws by McRae with 2:35 left, and the Vols almost forced a turnover with their press on the next possession.
Key word: Almost.
After the Miners barely beat the 10-second clock to get the ball past midcourt, Crosgile hit a 3-pointer to restore the nine-point lead. And a few seconds after Cedrick Lang took a charging foul to create a turnover for the Miners, Crosgile sliced through the lane for a nifty layup to help UTEP finish off the win.
UTEP went on a 16-5 run late in the first half, turning a 21-20 deficit into a 36-26 lead after a pair of jumpers by Bohannon ended the quick spurt that gave the Miners a cushion.
More than anything, it was the Miners’ defense that was proving most critical.
UTEP was outrebounded 27-15 in the opening 20 minutes (15-3 on the offensive glass alone), took only four free throws to Tennessee’s 16, but the key was that the Miners were just opportunistic. Tennessee had seven turnovers in the first half, hardly that bad a number — but UTEP turned those miscues into 11 points.
If losing wasn’t tough enough for Tennessee, the turnaround from Thursday to Friday might also be difficult. The Vols’ game with UTEP ended at 12:16 a.m.; their game with Xavier this afternoon is the first of the four on the tournament’s daily schedule, a 1 p.m. start.