David Tairu creates an interesting dilemma for Texas Tech coach Pat Knight.
Instead of starting, which Tairu did for the first six games of the season, the 6-foot-3 junior guard asked Knight to use him as a reserve.
It was a good thing Tairu played that role Sunday, scoring 13 of his 15 points in the second half to help No. 20 Texas Tech fend off UTEP 86-78.
"It's working," Knight said of Tairu's presence off the bench. "He came to us; he just feels more comfortable. He can watch things, kind of see how they develop. He's a starter coming off the bench."
Tech let an 11-point second-half lead slip away into a six-point UTEP advantage, but the Red Raiders rallied to remain unbeaten at home.
Trailing 59-53 with 8:31 left, Tairu hit three 3-pointers in a 2 1/2 -minute span to help Tech (12-2) keep pace with the Miners (9-3).
The score was tied 10 times and there were 11 lead changes, but the last of Tairu's 3-pointers spurred an 8-3 Tech run that put the Red Raiders back in control at 72-70 with less than four minutes to play. Tech never trailed after that.
Tairu was one of four Red Raiders in double figures—and he's been in double figures in all but one of Tech's seven games since he started coming off the bench Nov. 28.
D'walyn Roberts, who sat out most of Friday's victory against McNeese State because of flu symptoms, notched a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds.
"He really just helps out so much," said Mike Singletary of having Roberts back in the lineup. "Just by the way he plays. He rebounds and he blocks shots, and that really gets us going. We know if we get beat on defense that he can just come across and block a shot and start our fast break."
John Roberson scored a team-high 18 points and dished out five assists for Tech. Singletary added 16 points and nine rebounds.
Derrick Caracter scored a game-high 21 points for the Miners, who also had four in double figures.
The loss ended a four-game UTEP winning streak. The Miners have now lost 12 consecutive games to teams ranked in the Top 25, dating to Feb. 17, 2001.
The difference in the game, which UTEP coach Tony Barbee made a point of in the postgame press conference, was the number of times Tech went to the free throw line.
Twenty-six UTEP fouls became 46 chances from the line for the Red Raiders, who went 35-of-46 from the stripe.
"Tough one to swallow," Barbee said. "When you look at the box score and we have four more field goals than they do, we make two more 3s than they do, and they shoot double the foul shots. But when I watched them on tape against McNeese, the exact same thing happened. Tough one to swallow there. They spent the entire game at the foul line."
During UTEP's final possession of the first half, Barbee was given a warning for stepping over the coach's line. Barbee had some words with the officials after the half ended and was promptly given a technical foul as he headed into the locker room, his team trailing 35-28.
Roberson sank both free throws before the start of the second half and made a layup during the Red Raiders' first possession to put Tech up 11, its largest lead of the game.