Courtesy: UTEP Athletic Media Relations

Katarina Zec poured in a career-high 22 points while matching the program record for 3-pointers with seven but homestanding NM State downed UTEP, 76-68, inside the Pan-American Center Sunday afternoon.

The Miners (5-3) led by one (34-33) at the half before the Aggies (3-5) used a huge third quarter (25-13) to surge into the lead. The margin swelled to as many as 15 (67-52) before UTEP eventually struck back with a 7-0 run to cut it to seven (69-62) but it was too little too late.

Both squads shot well from the floor (UTEP 44.8 percent, NM State 45.3 percent) while also nailing 12 three pointers each, but NM State converted 21 UTEP turnovers into 23 points to create some separation. Conversely NM State’s 11 giveaways led to seven UTEP points. The Miners tried to make up for it by winning the boards (40-31) for the eighth time in as many games, which resulted in a 12-4 cushion in second chance points, but it wasn’t enough.

Tamara Seda joined Zec in double figures with 12 points while junior Jordan Alexander flirted with a double-double (eight points, 11 rebounds). Najala Howell and Roeshonda Patterson each finished with nine in the game.

NM State was led by Brooke Salas, who exploded for 29 points and six rebounds. Gia Pack (15 points) and Zaire Williams (14 points) also reached double figures in scoring for the Aggies.

“We looked young and played young today,” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “We came out of the locker room not really ready to play. Every time we showed the resilience that our kids have to get back in the game in we did something crazy to put ourselves away from the game. We never did quit. We have to play better and take care of the ball more. We are going to keep battling and hopefully figure out a way to get better.”

NM State jumped out to an 11-5 lead midway through the opening frame before back-to-back triples by Zec and Patterson pulled the Miners even (11-11) with 3:41 to play in the period. After the two sides traded scores, NM State put together a 5-0 run to take a 19-14 advantage through 10 minutes of action.

The deficit swelled to as many as eight in the second quarter before UTEP started to get things going. Faith Cook started the push with a triple. The Miners then got a stop and Cook found Howell all alone in the corner for a 3-pointer to make it 31-31 with 2:11 to play in the half. After NM State briefly regained the lead, Jordan Alexander sunk a pull-up jumper to afford UTEP a one-point cushion (34-33) at the half.

The Aggies came out firing to start the third quarter, making their first six shots of the frame to fuel a 14-3 run over the first three-and-a half minutes of the frame. The surge put UTEP down 10 (47-37) and forced Baker to call a timeout for his troops to regroup. Out of the break Puc used a strong post move to halt the 8-0 NM State run. UTEP then got a stop and a jumper by Alexander to make it a six-point contest (47-41). The Miners managed to get within four (50-46) but NM State closed the quarter on an 8-1 run to take an 11-point advantage (58-47) to the fourth quarter.

NM State slowly but surely extended its cushion in the fourth quarter, at one point leading by as many as 15 (67-52). The deficit was 14 (69-55) with 5:47 to play in regulation before UTEP peeled off seven straight points to narrow the gap to seven (69-62) with 2:40 left. NM State’s Salas connected on a triple to reinstate a double-digit lead for the home side and UTEP was unable to get close than seven the rest of the way.

UTEP will be idle for a week due to finals before returning to action against former Conference USA foe East Carolina at the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C. at 11:30 a.m. MST/1:30 p.m. EST on Dec. 17. The game will be broadcast locally in El Paso on 600 ESPN El Paso.