HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — Randy Culpepper scored 32 points to lead No. 24 Texas-El Paso to an 80-76 victory over Marshall on Tuesday night, clinching the Miners' first outright Conference USA championship.
UTEP was ahead 62-51 with 9 minutes remaining but surrendered the lead and needed a strong finish from Derrick Caracter, who scored 10 of his 18 points in the final 5 minutes. His layup with 31 seconds remaining put the Miners ahead 78-76.
Marshall lost the ball out of bounds with 10 seconds remaining and Culpepper completed the scoring with two free throws.
Claude Britten added 14 points for UTEP (23-5, 14-1), which has won 13 straight and broke into the Top 25 on Monday for the first time since February 1992.
Tyler Wilkerson led Marshall (22-8, 10-5) with 22 points and 16 rebounds. Freshman Hassan Whiteside had 20 points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots for the Thundering Herd, who saw their seven-game winning streak snapped.
Culpepper, the conference's third-leading scorer at 18.1 points, has the two highest scoring games in the league this season and Marshall did little to stop him in the second half, when he scored 22 points.
Culpepper hit a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer, then made three more in the first 2:28 of the second half, plus a free throw, to erase a 10-point deficit and put the Miners ahead 41-38.
Culpepper followed a soaring, one-handed dunk with another 3-pointer that gave UTEP its largest lead, 62-51, with 9:25 left.
Despite Culpepper's show, Marshall surged ahead by going after rebounds. The Thundering Herd made three baskets after missed shots in a 2-minute span and Damier Pitts' 3-pointer with 4 minutes left gave Marshall a 72-68 lead.
Marshall was coming off a 121-115 win in triple overtime over Central Florida on Saturday when Whiteside had his third triple-double of the season, including 13 blocked shots. Marshall scored 49 first-half points in that game but didn't start out on that pace Tuesday.
Marshall missed eight of its first 10 shots and fell behind 16-10, but used a 10-0 run late in the first half to go ahead. Pitts' jumper in the lane put Marshall ahead 36-26 with 45 seconds left until halftime.