It was what you would expect from a rivalry game, but the Miners showed their youth against a strong NMSU team dropping a 67-59 Battle of I-10 Rivalry game Thursday night.
A close game early in the first half turned with a late NMSU first half run that lasted into the third quarter which ended up being the overall difference. Although this budding group of Miners never quit and showed tremendous improvement against the preseason WAC favorites.
UTEP jumped out to a 16-9 lead thanks to some early free throws, but the Aggies closed the gap and it went back-and-forth for a stretch.
Lulu McKinney hit four 3-pointers in the game, and splashed one home giving UTEP a 30-24 lead with 4:02 left until halftime.
The Aggies closed out the half by scoring the last six points of the first half to take a 37-34 lead into the break.
NMSU’s run would explode into a 30-9 swing well into the third quarter hitting four 3-pointers during the second half stretch. Back-to-back bombs from Tonishia Childress, then Gia Pack pinned the Miners on the ropes down 54-39 with 2:49 left in the third quarter.
Normally this is where things have gone south in a hurry for this young UTEP team, but they would close the gap and make things interesting.
McKinney would hit a pair of 3-pointers during a 20-10 UTEP spurt that started after the pair of NMSU 3-pointers, and ended with a Sparkle Taylor free throw as UTEP closed the gap to 64-59 with 1:37 left in the game.
NMSU shot just 28.6 percent from the field in the fourth quarter, and 38.1 percent on the evening, but the Miners went the final three minutes of the game without a field goal after cutting the lead down to seven with a McKinney 3-pointer.
UTEP went 15-for-25 from the free throw line, missing at inopportune chances once the lead was down to double digits late in the game.
Four Miners scored in double figures led by Najala Howell who went 7-for-10 from the free throw line and scored 13 points.
Zuzanna Puc posted her first career double-double with 11 points, and 12 rebounds, five of those board coming on the offensive end. McKinney finished with 12 points all via the 3-ball, and Tamara Seda added 10 points, and eight rebounds.
NMSU’s Tamera William scored 16 points, and hauled in 15 rebounds, Moriah Mack was the only other Aggie to scored in double figures adding 15 points.
Faith Cook also dished out nine assists for UTEP, but field goal droughts, and missed chances on both ends are continued marks of needed growth going forward.
The loss snaps a five game winning streak for the Miners against their rivals from up the road dropping their current record to 2-7.
UTEP will now hit the road next to face Pittsburgh, and then Alabama in the inaugural Patrick Harrington Tournament in Niceville, Florida starting on December 14 against the Panthers on December 19th at 4 p.m. Mountain Time.