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El Paso, TX — UTEP forced 32 turnovers while a quartet of players hit double figures in scoring in a 81-74 conquest of East Carolina in front of a season-high and the seventh-largest crowd (5,568) at the Don Haskins Center Saturday evening.
Kayla Thornton (23 points), Jenzel Nash (22 points), Kelli Willingham (16 points) and Sparkle Taylor (10 points) led the charge for the Miners (21-5, 10-3 C-USA), who pulled into a tie for second place in the Conference USA standings. Willingham’s efforts allowed her to become the 10th member of the 1,000-point club at UTEP, with seven of those individuals having played under head coach Keitha Adams.
It was a physical contest that featured a combined 49 fouls while featuring 11 ties and seven lead changes, with the teams trading runs throughout. The Pirates (21-5, 9-4 C-USA) led 60-55 with 6:17 to play before Willingham and Thornton powered the home side to seven straight points.
The Pirates pulled even at 62, and once again for 64, but the Orange and Blue would not be denied. Kristine Vitola finished a lay-up from Chrishauna Parker to spark a 6-0 run, and ECU never got closer than four down the stretch.
UTEP connected on 40.4 percent from the floor, including a sizzling 54.5 percent in the second half. While the Miners were manhandled on the boards, 47-30, they compensated for that fact with a 17-11 advantage on second-chance points and 34-19 cushion in points on turnovers.
Another factor was the Miners’ success at the charity stripe. UTEP drilled 30-of-36 attempts from the free-throw line, with the 30 makes tying as the seventh-highest total in program history. Thornton keyed the charge in the area with a 13-of-14 effort while Willingham was 7-of-9 and Taylor was 6-of-6.
The Pirates, who have lost back-to-back games for the first time this season, did have success on the glass but were doomed by the turnovers. ECU was also hurt by fouls, with two of the 28 infractions coming on technical.
Four ECU players also reached double figures in scoring, with J’Kyra Brownand Shae Nelson sharing for the squad lead at 16 points each. The Pirates shot 39.7 percent (25-of-63) from the floor in the contest, included a sparkling 10-of-22 from beyond-the arc. They had some challenges at the free-throw line, though, finishing 14-of-21 in the department.
It marks the 15th home win on the year for the Orange and Blue, who can equal the school’s single-season standard when they play host to UTSA at 7:05 p.m. MST on Wednesday. The Miners’ three seniors, Thornton, Vitola and Willingham, will be honored in a special pre-game “Senior Night,” ceremony.
All tickets to the contest will be free as part of the ongoing celebration for National Girls & Women In Sports Day.
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