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March 7, 2009HATTIESBURG, MISS. - Stefon Jackson and Randy Culpepper combined for 53 points as UTEP clinched the no. 4 seed in next week's Conference USA Tournament with an 81-70 victory over Southern Miss on Saturday in Hattiesburg.
Jackson tallied 30 points and Culpepper added 23 for the Miners (19-11, 10-6 C-USA), who have matched their 2007-08 victory total. UTEP has displayed steady improvement each season under Coach Tony Barbee, posting a 6-10 league mark in 2006-07, 8-8 in 2007-08 and 10-6 this year.
It marks the 20th time in school history that the Miners have registered 10 victories in league play, including the second time in four years as a member of Conference USA. UTEP was 11-3 in C-USA games in 2005-06.
The Miners earned an opening round bye in the C-USA Tournament and will face the winner of Wednesday's game between no. 5 seed Houston and no. 12 seed SMU on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Mountain (8:30 p.m. Central) at the FedExForum in Memphis.
UTEP never trailed in Saturday's game, opening an 8-2 lead in the first three minutes. The Miners ended the first half with a 9-1 run to expand a 36-28 advantage to 45-29.
UTEP shot 65.4 percent in the first half and 56 percent for the game, both season highs. In fact, it marked just the third time this season that the Miners have shot over 50 percent from the floor, and the first time since Dec. 17 versus Texas Tech.
The Miners were 8-for-14 from three point range in the opening half, as Culpepper buried 4-of-7 trifectas and Gabriel McCulley, breaking out of a shooting slump, was 2-for-3 from beyond the arc.
Southern Miss (14-16, 4-12 C-USA) couldn't get the deficit under 10 points until 1:27 remaining, when R.L. Horton nailed a jumper to make it 76-67.
Horton led the Golden Eagles, who have lost 10 of their last 11 games, with 21 points.
Jackson has scored 30 points in back-to-back games for the first time as a Miner after pinning 30 on UAB three nights ago. He finished 10-for-18 from the floor and 9-for-10 from the line.
Culpepper made 8-of-14 shots, 4-of-8 three pointers and all three of his free throws. It marked the ninth time this season that Culpepper and Jackson have scored 20+ points in the same game, tying the school record set by Nate Archibald and Mike Switzer in 1968-69.
UTEP improved to 6-5 on the road and 5-3 on the road in C-USA play, the most wins for the Miners in each category since going 7-4 on the road and 6-3 in WAC road games in 2004-05.
UTEP has started the month of March 2-0 for only the sixth time since 1980.
San Diego State NEWS