UTEP connected on 50 percent of its shots (23-46) and won the rebounding battle (37-31) but visiting Arkansas State escaped with a 67-66 win at the Don Haskins Center Saturday afternoon.
“We put ourselves in a position to win today against a very good, solidly-coached athletic basketball team,” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “They just made one more play than we did.”
The Miners (2-5) led by two (66-64) before Akasha Westbrook converted an old-fashioned 3-point play to put the Red Wolves (3-4) up by one (67-66) with 13 seconds left.
UTEP called timeout to advance the ball and looked to retake the lead but it wasn’t in the cards as redshirt-junior Neidy Ocuane was called for a change with less than a second to play.
UTEP had led by as many as 10 (37-27, 8:23 3Q) early in the second half, and the margin was still at five (48-43) going into the fourth quarter. A-State put together a rally in the form of a 13-2 run at the onset of the final frame, vaulting out by six (56-50, 6:42 4Q) in the process. UTEP regrouped nicely, eventually surging back ahead after senior Jordan Alexander nailed a triple to put the Miners up by three (65-62, 00:45 4Q) late.
Peyton Martin, who paced A-State with 21 points and eight rebounds, got an offensive board and putback to make it a one-point affair (65-64, 00:28 4Q). Ocuane was fouled on the ensuing inbounds and went to the free-throw line. She split the pair, which allowed Westbrook’s and-one to serve as the game’s seventh and final lead change.
Redshirt-junior Ariona Gill (17 points), Alexander (13 points) and junior Zuzanna Puc (12 points) set the tone offensively for the Miners. Transfer Jade Rochelle pitched in eight points and a career-best nine rebounds in a personal-best 24 minutes played.
UTEP held A-State to 38.7 percent (24-62) from the floor, including just 23.5 percent (4-17) from 3-point range. The visitors compensated for that by forcing 23 Miner turnovers that were converted into 27 points. Another factor was A-State, which entered the contest leading the nation in both free throws made and attempted, going 15-26 at the charity stripe. Included in that was a 12-22 effort in the second half. UTEP was 12-13 from the free-throw line, including 8-9 in the final 20 minutes.
UTEP had a solid start, an important feat given its tendency of late to be sluggish in the opening frame. The Miners led by three (11-8) midway through the quarter after Gill cut through the defense for an athletic lay-up. It was back-and-forth the rest of the frame, with the Orange and Blue still carrying the three-point edge (16-13) after 10 minutes of action.
On the home side’s opening possession of the second quarter, Jordan Jenkins splashed home a corner three off a pass from Alexander to give the Miners their largest advantage (19-13) to that point. UTEP continued to lead as the half wore on, and it entered the locker room armed with a four-point cushion (31-27). It marked the first time since the season-opening win against Alcorn State (11/10) that the Miners outscored the opposition in both the first and second quarter.
The home side ripped off six straight to start the third frame, with Alexander making a trey and an and-one to fuel the run. The Miners continued to control as the quarter wore on, allowing them to carry that five-point lead into the final frame. To its credit, A-State was able to make enough plays to rally back and pull out the win.
UTEP will look to get back on track when it plays at I-25 rival New Mexico at 7 p.m. MT Wednesday. The game will be broadcast locally on 600 ESPN El Paso with Duke Keith on the call.