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UTEP Staves Off ECU, Jumps Back Into Second Place

It was the ultimate grind type of game, but the Miners overcame a strong ECU team to hold on 81-74 Saturday night.

Tom Gonzales-MinerRush

If Saturday night was a preview of what we could see in the C-USA tournament in March, then wow.

ECU and UTEP battled for second place, with the Miners prevailing  81-74  in a physical, big time college hoops battle.

Things weren't looking to good early for the Miners, Shae Nelson buried a three-point to give ECU an early 7-0 lead in the games first two minutes and five seconds.

The Miners would weather the early storm, tying things up at 10 with a Stacie Telles driving bank layup.

Both squads tangled in a nip and tuck first half, UTEP was unable to pull away, managing two 5-point leads, then clinging on to 33-31 edge at the half time break.

Much of the same pace lasted into, throughout much of the second half, though a layup from Kayla Thornton gave UTEP its largest lead of 44-36 with 14:53 left.

But ECU was not ready to go that easily.

J'Krya Brown sank a triple that brought the Pirates back to within one at 44-43, as ECU went on a 7-0 run in just 45 seconds.

Ondrea Shaw gave ECU the lead at 45-44 with a bucket, making things uber interesting at the 13:26 mark.

Nelson knocked down some clutch threes all night for ECU, one of her four treys came up at a huge spot, giving ECU 51-48 lead as time approached the ten minute mark.

ECU grabbed a late 53-48 lead, though the Miners kept coming, Jenzel Nash tied things up at 53 with a crowd arising triple with 8:04 left in the game.

Nash chipped in with 22 points of the UTEP bench, though had 8 turnovers, a costly one came at the 7:00 mark leading to a Jayda Payne trifecta, putting ECU back up 58-55.

The Miners also had trouble keeping ECU off the boards, the Pirates hauled in 23 offensive boards in the tilt, though 6 UTEP blocked shots limited them to only 11 second chance points.

Kristine Vitola broke a 64 all tie with a layup off a nice pass from Chrishauna Parker that seemingly put this one away with ECU self destructing with a technical foul in the final two minutes.

With the Miners leading 67-64 UTEP, Kayla Thornton was fouled going up for bucket, during the after contact scrum, Shae Nelson was hit with a tech.   Three free throws later and UTEP was sitting pretty with a 70-64 lead with 1:27 left to play and plenty momentum on UTEP's side.

ECU still wasn't ready to hop on the bus.

Payne drilled her third three-ball of the night on the ensuing possession, hushing the crowd, and bringing ECU back within three at 70-67.

Kelli Wilingham would close this out for good on the next Miner possession with a huge triple, the Miners would rebound, and convert from the line to put this one on ice for win number 21.

Brown and Nelson both scored 16 points each for ECU, who pounded the Miners on the glass 47-30.

Four Miners scored in double figures lead by 23 points and 9 rebounds from Kayla Thornton, Thornton was 5/14 from the field, but converted 13 out 14 tries from the free throw line.

Willingham finished with 15 points, while Sparkle Taylor again provided huge minutes off the bench with 10 points and 5 rebounds.

UTEP improves to 21-5 overall, and a 10-3 mark in the C-USA which sets up a tie for second place that the Miners own the tie breaker.

The Miners will host UTSA next Wednesday in the final home game of what has been, and still could be another special year for Keitha Adams.