UTEP falls short at Middle Tennessee, 76-60

UTEP

Photo Courtesy: MTSU Athletics

MURFREESBORO, TN (KTSM) – Ariona Gill posted a double-double (20 points, 12 rebounds), but UTEP dug itself an early hole and could never recover in a 76-60 setback at Middle Tennessee Thursday.

The Miners (12-7, 5-3 C-USA) trailed by four (14-10) late in the opening frame before the Lady Raiders (14-7, 6-3 C-USA) unleashed a game-altering 17-0 run that carried into the second quarter to put UTEP down by 21 (31-10). The Miners battled back to get within 14 at the half (41-27) and then within seven (65-58) in the fourth quarter, but MTSU was able to hold off the rally.

UTEP finished at 37.1 percent from the floor, including 21.1 percent (4-19) on 3-point tosses. An off night (10-20, 50 percent) at the charity stripe and 24 turnovers also affected the outcome. Avery Crouse buoyed Gill with nine points and a career-best nine boards. Katarina Zec pitched in eight points and nine rebounds. Tia Bradshaw led the effort from the reserves with a career-high tying eight points to go along with a personal-best five caroms.

“We weren’t playing well at all and couldn’t get anything going (in the first half),” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “We just kept hanging in there and you look up at one point it’s a seven-point game. We were playing our ‘b-level game’ instead of an ‘a-level game. There’s a lot of reasons for me to be frustrated right now because we didn’t play well, but more reasons for us to be excited about who we have and the kind of character we have.”

The Miners kept MT to 39.7 percent (23-58), including 28.6 percent (6-21) from 3-point range. MTSU compensated for that by going 24-29 (82.8 percent) at the free-throw line. UTEP won the boards (49-33), but it wasn’t enough to make up for other discrepancies.

“This is a tough venue to play in,” Baker said. “It feels like the whole world is against you, but they’re really not. Our young team learned a lot today.”

UTEP struck first with a triple by Ariana Taylor, but MTSU countered with a 10-3 push. Six of the points came at the charity stripe, putting the Miners down by five (10-5) midway through the opening frame. It was a four-point differential (14-10) after Gill completed an old-fashioned 3-point play with 2:26 left in the first quarter, but MTSU came alive.

The Lady Raiders wrapped a 17-0 run around the quarter break to put UTEP down by 21 (31-10) with 8:22 to go in the opening half. It remained a 21-point differential (35-14) midway through the quarter before the Orange and Blue ripped off seven straight points to get the deficit down to 14 (35-21). It was back-and-forth the remaining of the half, with the Miners still trailing by 14 (41-27) heading into halftime.

UTEP scored the first five points of the third quarter, including a fastbreak lay-up by Crouse, to cut the deficit down to nine (41-32) with 6:48 remaining in the frame. It was still a nine-point affair (43-34) with 5:06 left before MT used a 9-2 push to inch the differential out to 16 (52-36). UTEP trailed by 15 (56-41) after three quarters of action.

The Orange and Blue battled to within eight (57-48) with 6:19 left in the contest, but MTSU answered with a 5-0 run. UTEP continued to fight and trimmed the margin to seven (65-58) with 2:04 on the clock. To their credit the Lady Raiders had another response, this occasion with nine in a row to put the contest away.

UTEP will wrap up its week on the road with a tilt at UAB at 1 p.m. MT/2 p.m. CT Saturday. The contest will be streamed on CUSATV (subscription based). It will also be broadcast locally in El Paso on 600 ESPN El Paso with Brandon Cohn on the call.

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