LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - Tae Hardy (season-high 24 points, three rebounds) and Mario McKinney Jr. (career-high 22 points, seven rebounds) both had big nights, but the UTEP men’s basketball team was upended at NM State, 95-70, inside the Pan American Center Wednesday.
The setback halts the Miners’ (5-2) five-game winning streak, with the Aggies (3-2) relying on a hot-shooting night to topple the Orange and Blue.
NM State connected on 57.7 percent from the field, including going 12-24 from 3-point range.
The Miners shot 41.7 percent from the floor and set season highs for free throws made (27) and free-throw percentage (75.0 percent), but it wasn’t enough to propel them to victory.
Shamar Givance tallied nine points (9-10 FTs) while dishing out a season-high eight assists. Carlos Solomon added seven points and three rebounds.
No other Miner finished with more than five points.
“Plain and simple, we got our butt kicked. Give New Mexico State credit,” UTEP head coach Joe Golding said. “It’s a tough place to play, a good team. It’s coaching, it’s on me. I didn’t have the team ready to play. We just got out toughed tonight. It’s just a frustrating night. I’m frustrated for our fans. They just dominate us here. We’ve got to figure it out how to come here and win a basketball game in a tough environment.
“We don’t have any quit in us,” Golding said. “We got it (the deficit) to 11. Rio (Mario McKinney) misses the free throw. He grabs it and has a chance to go back up and make it a nine-point game. Our guys showed some fight to get back in the game. We were turning them over and they were struggling but then they hit that corner three and we fouled (away from ball) and it was a five-point play.”
UTEP struck first with a floater in the paint by Jamari Sibley before NM State countered with eight in a row to put the Miners down six (8-2, 16:39 1H).
Hardy halted the surge with a triple that was nothing but net. The Aggies pushed it back out to six (11-5) before Kevin Kalu slammed home a dunk.
The play energized the Orange and Blue, with it igniting a 7-0 run to put them back ahead (12-11, 13:30 1H). McKinney followed the flush from Kalu with a triple and then capped off the surge with a fastbreak layup.
It was back-and-forth over the next couple of minutes, with the contest tied at 16 before the Aggies scored 10 unanswered (five on free throws) to lead 26-16 with 9:05 remaining in the opening stanza. G
ivance brought an end to the sequence with a pair of free throws.
After a left-handed dunk by Anthony Roy brought the crowd to its feet, Hardy silenced it with a jumper from the right wing.
Two Xavier Pinson free throws edged the margin to seven (32-25, 4:52 1H), but Hardy countered with a triple.
The Aggies answered immediately with a trey of their own to go back up by seven and eventually extended the margin back to double digits (42-29, 1:31 1H). It was a 13-point deficit (44-31) at the break.
The home side tallied the first five points of the second half to move the margin to 18 (49-31) before Solomon converted a lay-up in traffic.
NM State responded with another 5-0 run to put the Orange and Blue down 21 (54-33, 16:57 2H).
UTEP whittled it down to 16 (56-40), aided by a dunk from Ze’Rik Onyema, but the Aggies peeled off six straight to go up 22 (62-40, 12:30 2H).
It was a 23-point game (65-42) before the Miners strung together six consecutive points, aided by forcing back-to-back turnovers, to prompt a timeout from the home side.
NM State led by 20 (68-48) midway through the stanza when the Miners ripped off nine straight to get the deficit all the way down to 11 (68-57).
McKinney was magical during the stretch, accounting for seven of the nine points. That included a steal and breakaway dunk.
The Aggies had an answer with a 3-pointer in the corner to end the stretch.
Compounding the matter was a foul away from the ball that led to two free throws, which both went, and suddenly the differential was back out to 16 (73-57, 7:51 2H).
Two more free throws for NM State stretched it out to 18 before a fadeaway jumper from Hardy halted the 7-0 run.
UTEP continued to play hard down the stretch, but it couldn’t close the gap.
The Miners return home to play host to NAIA foe Northern New Mexico at 2 p.m. MT Saturday. The game will be broadcast on 600 ESPN El Paso and streamed on CUSA.tv (subscription required). Tickets are available by visiting www.UTEPMiners.com/or by calling (915) 747-UTEP.