GREENVILLE, N.C. - The East Carolina women's basketball team continued its great success at Minges Coliseum Thursday night, debunking UTEP's attempt to break its home winning streak with a critical come-from-behind 64-54 victory. The Lady Pirates rise to 18-6 overall and 7-4 in Conference USA play while the Miners drop to 14-10 in 2009-10 and 5-5 in league action.
"I was extremely unhappy with our intensity in the first half," head coach Sharon Baldwin-Tener said. "We came out flat and were just horrible. However I really got into them at the break and the second half was the best we have played all season. Now we have to get ready for a tough Tulane team which I think is the best in the league.
"I hope our fans understand how important they are to us. We will need to make it hard on Tulane this Saturday as we try to get 5,000 people in here. Our crowd has supported us wonderfully all year."
With the triumph, ECU won its school record 12th-straight home game and has won 24 of its last 26 at Minges. The Lady Pirates also surpassed last year's regular-season total of 17 wins and 18 are now the most in the Baldwin-Tener era.
ECU responded from a poor shooting performance in the first half with a 50-percent effort in the second period, sparking the 18-point turnaround. The Lady Pirates also dominated the glass, picking up its largest positive rebounding margin of the season at +26 (48-22) and holding UTEP to the lowest total by an opponent this year. That would prove key as East Carolina converted just 19 field goals, its lowest amount in a win and the second-fewest this campaign. Additionally, after failing to reach 10 made free throws in the last two contests, the Lady Pirates hit 20 of their 27 attempts while holding the Miners to just seven made in 10 tries.
Chareya Smith tied her career high with 14 points while pulling down seven rebounds while Jean Best and Kelly Smith each scored 10. Kim Gay nearly recorded her third double-double of the year, netting nine points to go along with a team-best nine rebounds. Even though Allison Spivey was just 2-for-10 from the field, she contributed in other ways with five assists and six rebounds as well as two triples at key times in the second half. Additionally, Ashley Clarke was 6-for-8 from the line in the second half to end up with six points.
After UTEP began the game on an 8-4 run, Celeste Stewart hit a three to tie the score at 10 with 11:44 remaining in the half. However, the Miners regained the lead and stretched it to eight at the 6:44 mark. ECU continued to struggle from the field, but recovered to cut a 13-point deficit to eight at the half with two Chareya Smith free throws with 1:05 left.
The Lady Pirates knocked down just 30.4 percent of their shots in the first 20 minutes while allowing UTEP to convert 42.3 percent. East Carolina did a good job on the glass, outrebounding the visitors 17-15 but turned the ball over 10 times.
Chareya Smith paced the Lady Pirates with six points in the opening frame while Stewart added five. Smith also grabbed a team-high five rebounds. Jareica Hughes topped the Miners with eight points and Anete Steinberga, along with Hughes, snatched four boards.
ECU came out firing in the second half, slicing the UTEP lead to two at 31-29 with three minutes gone. Allison Spivey then gave the Lady Pirates a three-point advantage with a triple at the 14:35 mark. The lead would stretch to six when Kelly Smith drained her second trey of the contest from the right side. However, the Miners came back and took a one-point advantage before East Carolina responded with a 7-0 run to go up by eight. The Lady Pirates held UTEP without a field goal for over five minutes during the stretch.
The Miners rallied one last time, pulling within two on a Steinberga layup with 4:14 left, but a Chareya Smith three-point play sparked a game-ending 11-3 run that sealed the win for the home team.
ECU continues its three-game homestand Saturday, Feb. 13, welcoming league-leading Tulane to Minges Coliseum for a 1 p.m. start. The Lady Pirates will host the "Drive for Five" in an attempt to draw 5,000 fans and break the program's attendance record. Fans can gain free admission if they wear pink, are 18 years old or younger, show a valid military ID or have a valid ECU student OneCard. A social with free pizza and drinks will be held for those students at Harvey Hall inside the Murphy Center at 12 noon.
The contest with the Green Wave is being held in conjunction with the Women's Basketball Coaches Association's "PinkZone" effort to support breast cancer research, as well as the NCAA "Pack the House" national competition.