EL PASO, Texas (astateredwolves.com) – The Arkansas State women's basketball team saw its season come to a close with a 74-64 loss to the University Texas at El Paso Friday night in the opening round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament at the Don Haskins Center.
The loss ends one of the best seasons in program history, which saw the Red Wolves (22-12) claim its first ever out-right Sun Belt Conference regular-season championship and advance to the SBC title game for just the second time in its history.
The Red Wolves also made their ninth appearance in the WNIT, but suffered its first loss in the opening round of the tournament since 2003-04.
"The dust is going to have settle and it was another tough locker room," A-State head coach Brian Boyer said. "The season has come to an end and there will be closure, but it's unfortunate because most teams end the season with one loss and a lot end it with two losses and it's just the way it is. We've gone almost three months since we have lost back-to-back games and that is a testament to this team and the effort they have showed throughout the year."
UTEP used an 11-0 to start the second half to build a double-digit lead and A-State never fully recovered from that point. The Miners went up 49-37 with 13:33 to go before Hanna Qedan knocked down a 3-pointer to pull the Red Wolves back within nine points.
UTEP frustrated A-State throughout the night with pressing and trapping defense, which led to turnovers from the Red Wolves and easy baskets in transition for the Miners who scored 22 points off 17 A-State turnovers on the night.
"They made that one big run and it we just were not able to recover from that," Boyer said. "Credit them and their crowd tonight because it played a big role and when they went on that run it got loud and really gave them a push going forward."
The first half featured six lead changed and five ties, but the Miners were able to stay in the game thanks to a solid performance at the free throw line. A-State had nine team fouls with 9:08 to go in the first half, and UTEP made the Red Wolves by going 7-for-13 at the charity stripe.
A-State led by seven (18-11) with 12:48 to go in the half, but UTEP's press and trapping defense caused Arkansas State into costly turnovers. The Miners pulled within 18-15 but a layup from Morrill and a pull jumper for Gamble pushed the lead to 22-17.
UTEP closed the gap again, however, and tied the score at 25-25 and took its first lead since early in the first half at 27-25 with 5:33 remaining in the half. Qedan's second 3-pointer of the half put A-State back on top at 28-27, but UTEP tied the score at 30-30 with a minute to play.
Gamble appeared to have given the Red Wolves a jolt of momentum when she converted a three-point play to go up 33-30, but two costly turnovers in the game's final 30 seconds cost the Red Wolves a chance to extend the lead and allowed the Miners to tie the game at 33-33 heading into the break.