Freshman Zuzanna Puc notched her first career double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds) and UTEP made a late charge but visiting NM State escaped El Paso with a 67-59 win in the FirstLight Federal Credit Union Battle of I-10 Thursday evening.
The Miners (2-7) trailed the Aggies (7-3) by 15 (59-44) with 7:37 to play before fighting back to whittle the deficit all the way down to five (64-59) with 1:37 left. UTEP had two opportunities to get within three or even two but a couple of shots rimmed out and NM State iced the game with two late free throws.
Najala Howell (career-high 13 points, Lulu McKinney (12 points), Tamera Seda (10 points, eight rebounds) and Faith Cook (career-high nine assists) helped give the Miners a more balanced offensive attack. UTEP finished at 37.0 percent (20-54) from the floor and dished out 18 assists but was hindered by a readout of 23.5 percent (4-17) on three pointers and 60.0 percent (15-25) at the charity stripe.
Tamera Willian registered a double-double (16 points, 15 rebounds) while adding four assists and five steals to pace the visitors. She was joined in double figures by Moriah Mack with 15 points. NM State was held to 38.1 percent (24-63) from the floor. Turnovers were an issue for both sides, with UTEP making 19 and the Aggies committing 18l. NM State held a slight cushion on the boards (40-39).
NM State’s effort snapped a five-game winning streak for UTEP in the series, though the Miners still stand 15-6 against their I-10 rivals since 2005-06.
“It was a great game and it was very competitive,” UTEP head coach Keitha Adams said. “NM State has a good team, a veteran team. What really cost us the game was those five minutes in the third quarter. We are young; we’ve got to fight and play hard in every possession. We aren’t talented enough to take possessions off. We showed character, we showed fight. We are going to get better, but we are just learning the hard way on some things. Every day is a teaching day with my team right now. I don’t like being on the side of the scoreboard that we are on right now.”
NM State started quickly by scoring the game’s first six points on the way to grabbing a 16-8 advantage with 1:41 to play in the first quarter. The Miners got some stops down the stretch in the period and used some free throws and a jumper by freshman Jakeira Ford to get within four (16-12) through 10 minutes of action.
UTEP continued to play strong into the second frame, ripping off a 16-6 run over a five-minute span to vault ahead by six (30-24, 4:02 2Q). Howell and Seda started it off with back-to-back baskets and McKinney emphatically capped it with a three off a fine feed from Cook.
NM State clawed its way to back within one (34-33, 31 seconds 2Q), but UTEP looked poised to enter the locker room with the lead. It wasn’t to be though, with freshman Roeshonda Patterson misfiring on a triple with 11 seconds left in the half. The Aggies secured the rebound, were fouled and Mack made both. NM State then came up with a steal and scored with a lay-up to somehow head to the locker room up by three.
The momentum for the visitors carried over to the third quarter, with a triple to start the half followed by a lay-up suddenly putting the Miners in an eight-point hole (42-34, 8:46). McKinney drained a long trey to slow NM State but unfortunately it responded with a 10-0 run.
The deficit remained 15 with 7:37 left in regulation when UTEP started to turn up its defensive pressure. The Miners held the Aggies to just two field goals the rest of the way to give themselves a chance but NM State managed to hold on.
UTEP will be back in action at the inaugural Patrick Harrington Tournament with match-ups vs. Pitt (4 p.m. MT/5 p.m. CT, Dec. 19) and Alabama (6 p.m. MT/7 p.m. CT, Dec. 20) before taking a break for Christmas.
Both games will be broadcast live on 600 ESPN El Paso, KROD-AM Radio with Brandon Cohn on the call.