UTEP women fall to Middle Tennessee in defensive battle

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UTEP women fall to Middle Tennessee in defensive battle

UTEP guard Faith Cook dribbles the ball past Middle Tennessee's Anna Jones.

UTEP guard Faith Cook dribbles the ball past Middle Tennessee's Anna Jones.

Claudia Hernandez

UTEP guard Faith Cook dribbles the ball past Middle Tennessee's Anna Jones.

Claudia Hernandez

Claudia Hernandez

UTEP guard Faith Cook dribbles the ball past Middle Tennessee's Anna Jones.

Jeremy Carranco, Sports Editor

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Middle Tennessee’s Anna Jones led all scorers with 30 points in part to an impressive shooting day (10-17) from the floor to help lift the Blue Raiders past UTEP 54-45 at the Don Haskins Center on Saturday afternoon.

The freshman’s 30-point finish can also be attributed to a 8-13 mark from 3-point land, carrying the load from long-range for Middle Tennessee with eight of her team’s 12 3-pointers.

UTEP’s leading scorers Tamara Seda and Najala Howell combined for just six of their team’s 45 points, being shut down from a strong defensive effort from the Blue Raiders.

Zuzanna Puc came off the bench to score 16 points while Jordan Alexander added 12 for the Miners in the loss.

“We didn’t knock down our open shots, the other team knocked down all of their open shots,” Alexander said. “We also had trouble with crashing the boards and that’s out bread and butter.”

The Miners were out rebounded for just the third time this season (34-28) with 12 offensive boards going to the visitors who earned 12-second chance points in return.

The game was close throughout the first half as no team led by more than five. Middle Tennessee got off to an early 7-2 lead before the Miners would go on a 9-0 run over the game’s next seven minutes. The UTEP run that gave the team their largest lead of 11-7 started at the 5:14 mark of the first quarter and carried until the 7:52 mark of the second quarter before the Blue Raiders took a 20-19 lead at the break.

Defense was in lock down mode on both ends in the first half, leading to a low scoring 7-7 tie at the end of the first quarter of play.

Middle Tennessee (10-7, 2-2 C-USA) led 23-22 with 8:57 to play in the third quarter before they peeled off 15 straight points to put the UTEP (11-6, 2-2 C-USA) in a 16-point hole (38-22) with 2:35 to play in the frame that ultimately put the game in the Blue Raiders favor the rest of the way.

“I just thought that they had a really good game plan for us defensively all over the place, we couldn’t get in rhythm and we couldn’t do the things we normally do,” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “They denied our guards, we couldn’t get the ball to the X (Seda) to start offense because they were really physical with her down low. They executed their defensive game plan really well.”

UTEP shot a better percentage (18-44, 40.9 percent) than Middle Tennessee (16-46, 34.8 percent) but the visitors made up for that by drilling 12 triples (12-30) to UTEP’s one (1-13).

The difference in the game alongside the 15-0 run came down to Jones, who had a career day. She entered the game contributing 2.4 points per game and had made 7-39 (17.9 percent) from 3-point range on the season before her 30-point outburst against the Miners.

“This may have been her (Jones) breakout game,” Baker said. “We picked our poison and it was to force them to shoot perimeter shots and they made us pay for it today.”

The UTEP women’s basketball team will return to action when it wraps up its three-game homestand against Florida Atlantic at 7 p.m. on Thursday. The Owls knocked off the Miners 72-66 back on Jan. 7, in the two team’s first matchup this season in Boca Raton, Florida.

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