GREENVILLE, N.C. – East Carolina found itself in another tight contest with one of Conference USA’s top teams Wednesday night, but ultimately fell short as UTEP outlasted the Pirates 66-56 at Minges Coliseum. With its eighth-straight loss, ECU drops to 6-11 overall and 0-4 in league play while the Miners run their winning streak to six games and improve to 16-2 and 5-0.
East Carolina played again with just eight as freshman Dana Jones is out with a foot injury and junior Shala Hodges is serving an indefinite suspension.
Of the four C-USA contests the Pirates have played thus far, three of the teams (UAB, Memphis and UTEP) have a combined league record of 11-2.
Junior Britny Edwards posted her third double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds while Celeste Stewart dropped in a career-best 14 points. Chareya Smith and Katie Paschal also netted double figures with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Edwards added three steals and three blocks to complement her double-double output. Additionally, freshman Janesha Ebron handed out a team and personal-high four assists while the 10 points for Paschal was her first-ever double-digit scoring effort.
UTEP rode a 62-percent shooting performance in the first half to an overall showing of 47 percent (27 of 57 from the field). Meanwhile, the Pirates shot just 26 percent in the second stanza to finish with a 37 percent clip (21-for-57). The visitors exerted themselves on the glass, picking up 46 rebounds and limiting ECU to just 29. The Miners grabbed 19 offensive rebounds and turned them into 19 second-chance points and used a distinct size advantage to out-score East Carolina in the paint by a 40-24 count.
Kristine Vitola gave UTEP a quick 6-2 lead with just three minutes gone as she knocked down a jumper off a feed from Jenzel Nash. Kristine Mial responded with a three-pointer to cut the advantage to one, but a Gloria Brown jumper pushed it back to five at 10-5 with under 14 minutes remaining in the half.
A triple by Paschal knotted the score at 12 with a trey before Edwards gave ECU the lead back with a layup, but Nash responded with four-straight points to make the score 24-21 and force a timeout from the Pirate bench at the 5:59 mark. A 7-2 run capped off a by a Bryelle Smith basket put the Pirates in front by two (28-26) with 3:01 left.
The teams traded baskets for the rest of the way and with East Carolina clinging to a 35-33 lead, Anete Steinberga dropped in a layup with under 10 seconds on the clock to ensure a 35-35 deadlock at the break.
The Miners were able to hold the Pirates to just two points for the first 10 minutes of the second period and would take charge with an 11-2 run that ended when Tatiana Chapple scored in the paint to make it 46-39 with 10:06 on the clock. The advantage stretched back to nine when Gloria Brown hit a jumper down low, but East Carolina responded with a 7-0 run that featured six points from Chareya Smith to cut the deficit back to two at 48-46.
The Pirates stuck close and trailed by just five, 57-52, when Edwards recorded a steal and scored a layup with nearly three minutes remaining. However, UTEP scored the next five points to make its cushion double digits with just 1:37 left. Two Chareya Smith free throws sliced the Miners’ advantage to six, but that was as close as ECU would come the rest of the way.
East Carolina returns to action Sunday, Jan. 22, when the Pirates travel to Dallas, Texas for a matchup with SMU. Tipoff at Moody Coliseum is scheduled for 1 p.m.