Junior Lulu McKinney scored a season-high tying 15 points while freshmen Jakeira Ford (11 points) and Zuzanna Puc (10 points) also hit double digits for UTEP but first place Middle Tennessee rode big games from Ty Petty (27 points, six assists) and Alex Johnson (25 points, seven boards) to a 76-53 home conquest Saturday evening.
The Miners (6-16, 3-7 C-USA) showed good fight and trailed by five (38-33) with 4:37 to play in the third quarter only to have the Blue Raiders (14-8, 9-2 C-USA) wrap a 12-0 run around the quarter break.
“Coach Insell does have quite an excellent program,” UTEP head coach Keitha Adams said. “He’s won 146 games and only lost 25 here at home. We competed and I’m proud of our team for battling and playing hard. Our inability to score in the first half really hurt us. We had too many turnovers in the first half. In the third quarter we got it within five but they responded back. There were some positive tonight but we’ve got to get better defensively. We also had a lot of shots around the basket that we just didn’t finish. Middle Tennessee is always good defensively and it was challenge.”
Middle Tennessee won the boards (45-33) and shot 44.6 percent (29-65) from the floor despite the Miners holding them to 29.2 percent (7-24) from three-point range. UTEP finished at 35.1 percent (20-57) from the floor, including 36.4 percent (4-11) from distance.
The two sides traded scores in the opening moments, with Middle Tennessee up by two (8-6) halfway through the first quarter. The Blue Raiders, though, closed the frame on a 6-1 run to lead by seven (14-7) after the 1Q.
But back came the Orange and Blue, who peeled off six straight to climb within one (14-13, 8:20 2Q). The Blue Raiders took the run in stride, however, firing off 11 straight to secure a double-digit advantage (25-13, 5:41 2Q). It was back-and-forth the rest of the stanza, with the deficit remaining 12 (34-22) at the half.
UTEP turned up the heat defensively at the onset of the third quarter, holding MT to just four points in the first six-and-a half minutes of the frame. The Miners sparked a 7-0 run in the blink of an eye. MT had a response, though, in the form of the aforementioned 12-0 surge that finally gave the home side the breathing room it needed.
The Miners head back onto the road next week to face both LA Tech and Southern Miss starting Thursday in Ruston.