MIAMI, Fla.- Senior Sparkle Taylor drilled a jumper with about three seconds remaining in triple overtime to put UTEP up, 87-85, but FIU’s Kristian Hudson’s desperation heave from about 35 feet went as time expired to sink the Miners, 88-87, in the first 3OT game in program history at Lime Court at FIU Arena Thursday evening.
Taylor paced the Miners (4-12, 1-3 C-USA) with her fourth straight 20+ point effort (21)-the longest such streak at the school in nine years– but the Panthers (4-11, 2-2 C-USA) pulled out a miraculous win thanks to Hudson (35 points) and company.
“We looked like we were in the driver’s seat at the end but they hit the big shot,” UTEP head coach Keitha Adams said. “I feel really bad for the team because they played really hard. We just have to hang in there and stick together. It was a great game and a crazy one. A lot of things can happen out there. I’m proud of our players.”
Tamara Seda (14 points, 13 rebounds), Najala Howell (19 points), Katarina Zec (10 points), Lulu McKinney (nine points, nine assists) and Zuzanna Puc (eight points, six boards) all made quality contributions to buoy Taylor.
The game featured 15 lead changes and 13 ties, with the Miners playing from ahead for 40 of the 55 minutes. UTEP’s biggest advantage was 13 (56-43, 1:00 3Q) but the feisty FIU squad refused to quit. The Panthers put together a 13-1 run to trim the UTEP cushion to one (57-56, 2:334Q) before a jumper by Taylor and McKinney’s steal and score seemingly reinstated order.
The home side had other ideas, tallying back-to-back scores to get within one. McKinney split two free throws with 11 seconds left only to have FIU get a lay-up from Janka Hegedus (10 points) to send it to OT. The Panthers carried that momentum into the first extra session, with Tianah Alvarado (21 points) nailing a triple to put her side up, 65-62.
McKinney (two free throws) and a Seda lay-up reinstated the Miners’ lead (66-65) but Alexis Gordon (15 points) nailed a trey. After UTEP misfired at the other end, Hudson was fouled. She split the pair to put the Miners down three again (69-66) before Howell took over. The sophomore splashed home a step-back triple to beat the shot clock before converting on a lay-up off a steal. FIU tied it with free throws from Hudson. The Miners pulled ahead by two twice, but both times FIU had an answer, to force double OT.
In the second OT FIU raced out to a four-point lead (79-75), its largest advantage of the tilt, before the Miners scored the next four points at the free-throw line. Defense dominated the rest of the stanza, sending the game to a third-and as it turned out-final OT.
UTEP struck first thanks to Taylor before a Gordon triple. Jumpers by Taylor and Howell put the Miners up three (85-82) but Gordon came through again with a clutch trey. The score remained tied, 85-85, until Taylor’s shot silenced the crowd. Unfortunately for the Orange and Blue faithful it was short-lived, with Hudson somehow managing to sink the game-winning triple.
UTEP will wrap up its stay in the “Sunshine State,” by playing at Florida Atlantic 3 p.m. MST/5 p.m. EST Saturday. Tim Hagerty will have the call on 600 ESPN El Paso.