MYRTLE BEACH, S.C.- Six different players reached double figures in scoring and UTEP connected on a school-record 42 free throws to power past former Conference USA foe East Carolina, 93-79, in overtime in a neutral site contest as part of the Carolinas Challenge Sunday afternoon.
The Pirates (6-5) buried a triple to take a 78-75 lead 21 seconds into OT but the Miners (6-3) finished the contest on an incredible 18-1 run to halt ECU’s five-game winning streak. UTEP went 13-14 from the charity stripe in the OT period to cap a record-setting day at the free-throw line. Overall the Miners nailed a program-best 42 free throws on 50 attempts (third most at school). UTEP also shot 50 percent (23-46) from the floor and won the boards (40-33), which helped compensate for 23 turnovers.
Faith Cook poured in a career-high 16 points to share the team lead in scoring with Tamara Seda. Najala Howell proved big with her second-career double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds) while junior Jordan Alexander tallied a career-high tying 15 points to go along with eight boards. Zuzanna Puc pitched in a season-high 16 points off the pine and Katarina Zec overcame early foul trouble to also hit double figures in scoring (11 points).
Howell was a perfect 10-10 at the charity stripe while Cook (8-10), Alexander (7-10), Seda (6-6), Zec (6-6) and Puc (4-5) also took care of business at the line.
ECU was led by Destiny Cambell’s 18 points. Ariyana Williams (12 points), Raven Johnson (11 points) and Lashonda Monk (10 points) also recorded double-digit point totals.
“We knew we could attack East Carolina and really get to the rim off the dribble,” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “I’ve always loved how this team shoots free throws. They seem to have a knack at the line to finish things off. We know how to win when you look at what we did at the charity stripe down the stretch.”
UTEP came out clicking on all cylinders to vault out to a 9-2 lead just two-and-a half minutes into the contest. ECU fought back to trim the deficit to two on a trio of occasions but the Miners scored the final five points of the period to stake a seven-point advantage (22-15) through 10 minutes of action. UTEP was 7-8 from the floor and 7-8 at the charity stripe in the frame to produce a season-high for first quarter scoring.
The advantaged swelled to double figures for the first time of the game with an old-fashioned 3-point play from Alexander at the onset of the second quarter. The Orange and Blue continued to control as the period wore on, with the Pirates unable to get closer than seven during the frame. UTEP capped the quarter on another 5-0 run, including a half-court buzzer beater by Howell to afford it a 12-point cushion (42-30) at the break.
The Pirates blitzed UTEP to the tune of 18-8 over the first seven minutes of the third quarter to cut the advantage all the way down to two (50-48). The Miners regrouped nicely, responding with eight consecutive points to reinstate a double-digit advantage (58-48) with a little more than a minute to play in the frame. ECU struck back with a mini 5-0 run to cut the lead in half but Howell sunk a pair of free throws with 0.4 seconds to play in the quarter.
The margin remained seven (66-59) with 6:58 to play in the contest before East Carolina ripped off eight straight points to take its first lead of the game at 67-66 over the next minute-and-a-half. The two sides went back and forth from that point on with three lead changes in the final five minutes. Monk nailed a jumper with 20 seconds to play to force the sixth tie of the tilt. UTEP called timeout but committed a turnover in the waning seconds to send the contest to overtime.
Williams sunk the long triple on ECU’s opening possession of OT but it was all Miners from that point onward. Zec used a driving lay-up to get the Miners within one before a pair of Seda free throws put them back in front. As it turned out, they would never trail again. Cook drilled a wide-open triple before two more free throws from Zec afforded UTEP a six-point cushion (84-78) with 1:52 left. ECU stopped the 8-0 run with a free throw but it would not score again. The Miners then salted the contest away by going 9-10 at the charity stripe down the stretch.
UTEP will return to action when it takes on Samford in its opening game of the Tulane Classic on Thursday. UTEP will then face either Tulane or Troy on Friday. Both contests will be broadcast locally in El Paso on 600 ESPN El Paso with Brandon Cohn on the call.