A season-best five different Miners reached double figures in scoring, and UTEP used a huge second half to take down East Carolina, 81-66, at Don Haskins Center Sunday. The Miners (14-1, 2-0 Conference USA) outscored the Pirates (11-4, 1-1 C-USA) 54-31 in the second stanza to erase an eight-point halftime deficit (35-27) and extend their winning streak to nine.
The 54 points are the seventh most in the second half of a game in program annals while the win streak ranks as the fifth longest at the school.
UTEP moves to 14-1 on the year, including 10-0 at home, to equal best start in school history. Additionally, it is off to a 2-0 start in league play for the second straight year and fifth time overall.
The Pirates were up by five (48-43) with 11:54 to play before UTEP took over behind the play of Kelli Willingham. She scored the first eight points of a 10-0 run, including six in a 16-second span, to afford the Miners their first lead of the contest (53-48, 9:50 to play.) Soon thereafter the UTEP advantage hit double digits (62-52, 5:58), and the visitors could get no closer than nine down the stretch.
Junior Kayla Thornton led the way by tallying a game-best 21 points while Anete Steinberga (19 points), Willingham (15 points), Irene Gari (12 points) and Chrishauna Parker (12 points) also hit double digits. Gari and Parker flirted with a double-double by grabbing nine rebounds apiece.
“It was a great win against a very good team,” UTEP head coach Keitha Adams said. “I’m really proud of our players. We had a great second half. We set the tone and played much better than we had in the first half. It was a good win.”
UTEP, which shot 48.6 percent (17-of-35) during the decisive second stanza, handled the relentless ECU press incredibly well. The Miners registered 17 assists while committing just nine turnovers. Another factor was UTEP knocking down its free throws (23-of-29, 79.3 percent) and winning the boards (50-44).
The defensive effort by the Orange and Blue is also notable. The Pirates were held to 35.4 percent (23-of-65) from the floor, including a paltry 15.8 percent (3-of-19) from beyond the arc. Britny Edwards posted 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to pace a quartet of Pirates in double figures.
UTEP will wrap up its mini two-game homestand while also trying to set the school standard for best start to a season (15-1) when it plays host to UAB at 1 p.m. MST, Jan. 20. The game will be televised nationally by Fox Sports Net.