EL PASO, Texas – Charlotte received a career-high performance from junior Hillary Sigmon, while redshirt junior Gabby Tyler added a double-double, as the 49ers earned a hard-fought, 40-minute 92-86 victory at UTEP Saturday night. The win, which marked Charlotte’s first 90-point plus outing since scoring 91 in a 91-43 thrashing of Charleston Southern Dec. 13, 2008, left the Miners with their first home defeat of the campaign after they started 10-0 inside the Don Haskins Center in 2013-14.
Sigmon and Tyler combined to connect on 22-of-26 shots, assisting in the Niners’ overall team’s blazing-the-nets effort of 61.8 percent, a program high during head coach Cara Consuegra’s three seasons. Charlotte (9-8, 3-1 C-USA) made 34-of-55 from the floor on the night, including 5-of-9 from long range, including a 16-of-23 (69.6 percent) showing during the final 20 minutes in one of the toughest environments in the conference.
Sigmon buried 12-of-15, including 5-of-7 from 3-point territory, to take over third place by herself on the school’s career triples list with 135, leading to a career-high 32 points. She is the first 49ers player to reach the 30-point mark since Epiphany Woodson also registered 32 at Saint Louis Feb. 22, 2012. Tyler added 10-of-11, finishing with 22 points to tie her career high set just last week against North Texas, to go along with 12 rebounds, featuring nine on the defensive glass, for her second double-double of the season and fifth of her career.
Senior Ny Hammonds chipped in 14 points, while freshman Lefty Webster also matched her career best with 13 points off the bench, equaling the mark she had against Old Dominion in the league opener.
Preseason All-C-USA player and reigning league player of the week Kayla Thornton paced the Miners with 18 points and nine rebounds, though Chrishauna Parker contributed a double-double of 10 points and game-best 13 rebounds. Jenzel Nash (17 points), Kristine Vitola (16) and Kelli Willingham (10) also reached double-figure points for UTEP, who dropped only its fourth game when netting at least 80 points during head coach Keitha Adams’ 13 seasons.
A fast-tempo first half, punctuated by a corner 3-pointer by Sigmon and a block on the other end from Tyler, helped lift the 49ers to their 10th halftime lead of the campaign. Both teams blitzed out of the gates, racing to an 8-8 tie by the 15:53 mark before back-to-back triples from Willingham and Camesasha Turner put the Miners up, 14-8, at the first media timeout with 14:49 remaining.
Charlotte stormed back to close within one, including Sigmon’s first trey to move her into sole possession of third place on the school’s career list. The two teams traded buckets through the opening eight minutes, with Hammonds’ jumper at 12:10 to give the 49ers a 17-16 advantage. However, five-straight points and an overall, 8-2 run by UTEP (13-4, 2-2 C-USA) put it ahead, 24-19, at 9:22 when Willingham capped the spurt with another 3-pointer.
Tyler kept the Niners close, tallying six-consecutive points, but the Miners margin would swell to as high as nine, 32-23, at the 6:28 mark when Vitola added a layup, forcing a Charlotte timeout. UTEP maintained its nine-point advantage following a pair of Parker free throws with 4:41 left.
Gordon’s single free throw at 4:26 ignited an 8-0 Niners spurt over a near two-minute span, as Tyler’s old-fashioned three-point play closed it to cut the deficit to one, 34-33. Agata Dobrowolska pushed it back to three on the next Miners possession, but Tyler added another layup and Hammonds hit a long two-pointer to put Charlotte on top, 37-36, with 1:36 remaining.
After UTEP inched ahead with just under a minute left, Sigmon drained her second triple of the period and Tyler blocked the ensuing Miners attempt from Johni Welles to give the 49ers a 40-38 halftime lead.
The speed of the opening stanza did not slow down after intermission, though Charlotte was more efficient on the both ends of the floor. The 49ers held UTEP to just 37.8 percent from the floor for the game, the third time in four conference games Charlotte’s defense has limited an opponent to 40.0 percent or less, all wins.
The Miners, had other ideas to start the last period, however, as they sliced the margin to one, 41-40, on Thornton’s opening layup. Sigmon answered with a triple, quickly putting the 49ers back on top by four, 44-40, before the first minute had passed.
The two teams traded buckets in the next four minutes before Nash took over for UTEP, recording six-straight points, the last two on free throws at 15:02, to knot the score for the fourth time, 50-50. Sigmon then went to work again, burying a corner 3-pointer and adding a contested layup to push Charlotte’s advantage back to five, 55-50, with 13:54 to play.
Nash again scored, her extending her personal run to eight points, before Webster countered with a layup to open a 10-0 Niners surge over a span of 2:25. Tyler had an old-fashioned three-point play coming out of a media timeout, while Sigmon buried yet another trifecta, to highlight to stretch. Nash answered with a 3-pointer of her own, giving her 11-straight points for UTEP, but the margin remained at double figures, 65-55, with 10:30 remaining following her long-range bomb.
With the home crowd in their back pocket, the Miners trimmed the deficit to five, 67-62, when Thornton created a steal in the back court, made the ensuing layup and then Willingham poured in another triple at 7:41. Charlotte, however, kept its composure, and after another Thornton layup made it a seven-point difference, 73-66, with 4:47 left, the visitors extended their lead back to 13, 79-66, at 3:02 when Hammonds dropped in a two just inside the 3-point arc.
Vitola hit back-to-back 3-pointers, as UTEP attempted to lengthen the game by fouling. Two free throws at the other end by Thornton with 1:54 remaining, cut it again to seven, 81-74. However, the 49ers converted 13-of-16 charity tosses in the final 2:27, keeping the Miners from making a larger dent into the deficit.
UTEP sliced the gap to five one last time, when 3-point specialist Anete Kirsteine hit her only attempt from behind the line, with 24 seconds to go. After her conversion, Charlotte’s 3-of-4 free throws made it a more-than-two possession contest, keeping the Miners from completing their comeback attempt.
The 49ers return to action when they play host to Tulane, another 3-1 Conference USA squad, at 7 p.m. Wednesday inside Halton Arena. Charlotte is 6-2 inside its home arena this season, including a perfect 2-0 league mark.
Wednesday’s contest can be heard live on ESPN 730AM with Bobby Rosinski handling play-by-play duties and Lanny Ford serving as the color analyst.