Northern Arizona out of the Big Sky Conference was not scared at all of the bells and whistles of the Haskins Center.
But rather poised and clutch, while UTEP’s struggle on both ends continued on as the Lumberjacks handed UTEP their sixth straight loss 76-74 in front of a small announced crowd of 5,667 Saturday night.
The visitors shot 53.7 percent in the game, 57.7 percent in the final half, led by 18 points and nine rebounds from Jordyn Martin as they improve to 3-9 overall on the season.
Seven of NAU’s first nine shots came from deep, but a 2-for-9 start from the floor allowed UTEP to open up with a lead that would be short lived due to some rough shooting in the first half from UTEP as well.
A 3-pointer from Jake Flaggert, then Deon Barrett, followed up by a nice reverse layup from Omega Harris put UTEP out in front 16-4 at the 13:16 mark.
UTEP started 4-for-7 from 3-point land, but would finish the half missing their last seven looks from distance, and fell behind at halftime.
NAU took advantage of two very long UTEP scoring droughts spanning almost six minutes each. The Jacks outscored UTEP 30-13 in the final 13 minutes of the first half during UTEP’s cold spell to grab a 34-29 halftime lead.
The Lumberjacks crushed UTEP on the boards in the opening half with a 22-13 edge, and shot exactly 50 percent in the first half, while UTEP shot 37.9 percent in the opening half.
NAU opened up their lead to 38-31 coming out of the halftime break, but Omega Harris would score five straight, including a 3-pointer coming out of a timeout giving UTEP a 43-40 lead at the 15:48 mark of the second half.
Ako Kaluna would answer on the ensuing possession with a tough layup, plus the free throw for NAU, tying the game at 43 just a few seconds later.
NAU led 49-45 after a 3-pointer from Jaleni Neely, but Omega Harris would knockdown another 3-pointer, then hit a pair of free throws to give UTEP a slim 50-49 lead with 12 minutes left in the game.
But, the Lumberjacks would go on a 15-7 spurt taking a 64-57 lead after 3-pointer from Marcus Deberry during an almost five minute span.
UTEP would play catch-up the rest of the way, despite cutting into the lead down the stretch. But a UTEP team that hasn’t tasted victory in a few weeks, showed their inability to close out, or come from behind to take charge.
Harris hit a big-time 3-pointer cutting the lead down to 72-69 after UTEP found themselves down 72-64 a few minutes earlier. Although Kaluna came down the other end for a two-hand slam almost a minute later putting NAU back in front 74-69 with 2:10 left.
Harris would again cut into the lead with a high flying layup, then UTEP got a key defensive stop trailing 74-71 with 25 seconds left.
Floyd called timeout after the stop, setting up Harris with a decent look from close to the top of the key with 17 seconds left, but Harris would miss, and NAU went 2-of-4 from the free throw line in the closing seconds to seal the win.
Harris finished with 22 points, hitting four 3-pointers on the night, but his gritty effort was not enough. Jake Flaggert hit five 3-pointers for all of his 15 points, Matt Willms added 10 points, and seven rebounds.
Dominic Artis ended the evening with 11 points, and 12 assists, but the Miners were out rebounded 38-24, giving up 13 second chance points to an inferior NAU front court.
UTEP shot 11-for-31 from behind the 3-point line in the game, and ended the game shooting 45.8 percent from the field.
The Miners did come up with 19 turnovers, and cashed in on 25 points off turnovers. But when a defensive stop was needed, or a big bucket, the Miners came up empty on every clutch occasion.
UTEP drops to 2-7 on the season, and will host Maryland-Eastern Shore to open the Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational on Tuesday night.