For 34 minutes and some change, UTEP played their best basketball of the season at the most important time. They hit shots, controlled the tempo, took care of the ball, and kept Old Dominion’s all-world player in check.
But it all fell apart in the final six minutes of the game.
Old Dominion finished the game on a 17-2 run, and C-USA Player of the Year Jennie Simms scored 17 second half points, 10 in the fourth quarter to hand UTEP their early exit from the C-USA Tournament in Birmingham for the second straight season.
It was a fast paced, offensive shootout in the first quarter that saw UTEP shoot over 60 percent from the field, and led 23-21 after the first quarter which was filled with back-and-forth action.
UTEP and Sparkle Taylor continued to fill it up as the senior wing scored 22 first half points on 9-for-11 shooting from the floor.
The Miners opened up a double digit lead in the second quarter after a Najala Howell jumper made it 37-27 UTEP with 4:43 left until halftime
ODU out scored UTEP 13-8 from there until halftime where UTEP led 45-40
UTEP remained in control of the lead while continuing to push the tempo and led 55-47 after another bucket from Taylor with just under five minutes left in the third quarter.
Even with a strong start, and a 61-55 lead heading into the fourth quarter, Old Dominion still has the C-USA Player of the Year who finally was able to take over.
UTEP kept Jennie Simms in check for most of the game, but Simms would score six straight at one point as the third quarter turned into the fourth .
The Miners led 57-51 with 3:09 left in the third, but a 24-11 spurt from Old Dominion which lasted until a minute left in the ball game buried UTEP and sent them home.
Simms hit a 3-pointer during the spurt and ODU led for the first time in the second half 69-68 with 5:20 left in the game.
While ODU rallied, UTEP struggled going almost five minutes without a point in the fourth quarter. Zuzanna Puc’s layup at the 6:52 mark of the fourth quarter extended UTEP’s lead to 68-63, but that would be the final field goal from a UTEP player for the rest of the game.
In all, it would end on a 17-2 ODU run in the final six minutes with the Miners missing their final nine field goal attempts, and ODU made 25-of-29 attempts at the free throw line in the ball game.
Taylor finished her UTEP career with a 32 point effort, one point shy of tying the UTEP record for most points scored in a C-USA Tournament game. Howell was the only other Miner to score in double digits as she added 17 points before fouling out.
UTEP shot 56.3 percent from the floor in the first half, but shot 34.6 in the second half going 3-for-14 from the field in the fourth quarter.
It was a disappointing rebuilding season that ends at 8-23 overall, but if there’s one thing that’s always 100% certain with this Keitha Adams led program......
This young team won’t be down for long, and Adams still has the program on track for success in the near future.