The Conference USA basketball tournament, Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Frisco, Texas. (CUSA Photo/Roger Steinman)
FRISCO, Texas – Jordan Alexander (16 points), Ariona Gill (14 points) and Katarina Zec (12 points) all hit double figures in scoring to help 11th-seeded UTEP outlast sixth-seeded Marshall, 64-56, in double overtime in the opening round of the 2019 Conference USA Basketball Championships Wednesday afternoon.
The Miners (9-21) advance to lock up with third-seeded Middle Tennessee in the quarterfinals at 1 p.m. MT/ 2 p.m. CT Thursday.
For most of the day, UTEP was playing catch-up. The Thundering Herd (16-14) led by 10 (31-21) late in the third quarter, but the Miners fought back. UTEP took its first lead of the game after a pull-up jumper from Alexander with 2:03 to play in the fourth quarter. It was back-and-forth the rest of the way, with Marshall’s Taylor Porter hitting a pair of free throws with 1.7 seconds left in regulation to send the contest to overtime.
UTEP tallied the first four points in OT before the Thundering Herd scored six straight to pull ahead by two (52-50) with 14 seconds left. With time running down, Gill sliced through traffic for buzzer-beating lay-up in the lane to send the contest into double OT.
UTEP never trailed in the second overtime, thanks in part to Zec and Alexander both connecting on clutch triples. Marshall cut the margin to two (58-56) on a jumper by Shayna Gore (game-high 25 points), but UTEP scored the final six points in the contest to hold on for the victory in the tournament’s first double-OT contest since 2006.
The Miners have now won first-round games in consecutive years. It was the second OT contest for UTEP in program history at the league tourney (lost 72-70 previously to Marshall in 2009), and the first that went to double overtime.
“I’m so proud of our team as they were so tough today” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “Today was a testament to how it’s been all year for us. We keep plugging away, we keep trying to get better. I’m proud of our team and our perseverance.”
The Miners connected on 42.4 percent (25-59) from the floor in the contest, aided by shooting a ridiculous 62.5 percent (10-16) in the fourth quarter to help force overtime. It was a different story for Marshall, which was held to 23.9 percent (17-71), including a challenging 17.9 percent (7-39) from 3-point land.
UTEP crushed Marshall on the glass (56-39) and had a big advantage for points in the paint (34-12). The Miners, who dressed seven players for the 11th straight contest, also managed to have a big differential for bench scoring (22-3). The Thundering Herd nearly overcame that by forcing 23 turnovers while also going 15-21 on free throws. UTEP finished 9-17 at the charity stripe.
Jade Rochelle scored eight points off the bench, all in the first half, to provide a boost. Ariana Taylor added nine points before fouling out.
Neither team could get anything going offensively early on, with the score tied, 2-2, with three minutes left in the first quarter. After Marshall drilled its first of seven triples in the contest, UTEP tallied the next three points (all on Rochelle free throws) to pull even at five with 1:53 remaining in the frame. Marshall countered with a 5-0 push of its own before a lay-up by Taylor cut the deficit to three (10-7) through 10 minutes of action.
The margin was just two (13-11) with 6:07 to play after a jumper by Rochelle. Marshall heated up with back-to-back triples, putting the Miners down by eight (19-11) at the halfway point of the second quarter. The differential eventually grew to nine (20-11), but UTEP regrouped and scored the final five points in the half to make it a four-point contest (20-16) at the half.
It was back-and-forth in the third quarter before a mini 5-0 push by the Thundering Herd forced the Miners to stare down a double-digit deficit (31-21) for the first time of the tilt. UTEP refused to quit but instead rallied back for the eventual double overtime win.
Thursday’s contest against MT will be available on ESPN+. The game will also be broadcast locally on 600 ESPN El Paso with Steve Kaplowitz and Traci Miller on the call.