Najala Howell (22 points, 11 rebounds) and Tamara Seda (20 points, 10 rebounds) both posted double-doubles, and UTEP rallied from 15 down to knock off Florida Atlantic, 75-70, at the Don Haskins Center Thursday evening.
This year’s Miners (12-6, 3-2 C-USA) become the first team in program history to have multiple 15+ point comebacks. Moreover, with 12 wins Kevin Baker now has the most victories by any first-year UTEP head coach in program history.
But the Owls (8-7, 2-2 C-USA) made them work for it by nailing 10 triples, including eight in the first half, to lead, 45-30, late in the first half. The deficit was 11 midway through the third quarter before the Miners wrapped a 15-0 run around the quarter break to secure their first lead since the opening minutes of action. It was back-and-forth down the stretch with four lead changes in the final five minutes, including UTEP scoring the final six points of the contest after FAU led 70-69 with 56 seconds left.
“We challenged our team at halftime to guard with purpose like we’d been practicing all week and we’d be just fine,” Baker said. “In the second quarter they scored 26 points; in the third and fourth together they scored 25. It was all about guarding for us. When our team did that, it really fed into our offense. I keep saying this about our team, we’re down but we’re never out.”
Katarina Zec joined Howell and Seda in double figures with 13 points and six boards while Jordan Jenkins, Jordan Alexander and Zuzanna Puc each chipped in six points. Roeshonda Patterson made an impact with a career-high seven rebounds and a pair of steals in 14 minutes off the bench.
The Miners won the boards, 46-38, while also holding an advantage for points in the paint at 34-22. UTEP connected on 43.5 percent (27-63) while also taking care of business at the charity stripe by going 19-24 (79.2 percent).
FAU was held to 35.8 percent (24-67), including 30.3 percent (10-33) from beyond-the-arc. Malia Kency tallied 21 points to lead a quartet of Owls in double figures.
UTEP got off to an early 6-2 lead but the Owls countered with a 14-6 push to secure their own four-point advantage (16-12) with 1:17 left in the period. A Howell jumper cut the deficit to two but an offensive rebound led to a wide-open triple to beat the first quarter buzzer for Alexis Cowan.
The run wrapped around the quarter break reached eight straight points to afford Florida Atlantic a 10-point margin (24-14) with 8:56 to play in the half. UTEP didn’t flinch, as it slowly but surely started to chip away at the deficit. The Miners reduced it to five on a trio of occasions but a 12-2 surge by the Owls put the Miners down 15 (45-30) with 47 seconds left in the stanza. UTEP closed strong, using a 3-pointer by Howell and a jumper courtesy of Puc to climb within 10 (45-35) heading to the locker room.
The deficit was 11 (55-44) with 4:35 to play in the third quarter but UTEP started to make its move. The Miners ripped off nine consecutive points to close out the frame with momentum and reduce the FAU lead to two (55-53) heading to the fourth quarter.
The Miners continued to play well at the onset of the fourth quarter by scoring six straight. The effort made it a 15-0 run wrapped around the quarter break, and gave them their first lead (58-55) since the opening quarter. FAU finally put an end to it with a jumper and a pair of free throws, but the damage had been done.
The pendulum of momentum was firmly with the Orange and Blue, who put together a 5-0 run to break a 60-60 tie. FAU rallied with a 10-4 sequence to grab the aforementioned 70-69 advantage but it was short-lived. An old-fashioned 3-point play by Howell, off a feed from Seda who matched her career high with four assists, put UTEP back in front. The Miners got two more stops and hit three of their final four free throw attempts to ice the contest.
UTEP will be idle until it opens up a two-game roadswing at Rice at 6 p.m. MST/7 p.m. CST on Jan. 26. The Miners are also slated to play at North Texas at 2 p.m. MST/3 p.m. CST on Jan. 28. Duke Keith will describe the action for both games on 600 ESPN El Paso. The contests will also be live streamed on CUSA.tv (subscription required).