SAN ANTONIO – Tesha Smith scored 18 points and snared a career-high 12 rebounds to lead UTSA to a 61-60 victory against third-place East Carolina on Thursday night at the Convocation Center.
Smith was a rock in the post for UTSA (13-12, 4-8 C-USA) against a physically bigger Pirates (21-4, 9-3 C-USA) frontcourt. She finished the game 4-for-7 from the field and also was 10-for-12 from the free throw line. Kamra King made her presence known with multiple darting dashes to the basket to draw contact on her way to 17 points. King set career highs for free throw makes and attempts with a 13-for-18 performance at the charity stripe.
Shae Nelson scored a game-high 21 for the Pirates, who lost their first conference game in regulation. East Carolina’s previous two losses in C-USA play had come in overtime.
In the opening half it was East Carolina who appeared ready to run away with the game following Jada Payne’s 3-pointer to put the Pirates up 12-5 at the 12:12 mark. Later in the half the Pirates pulled ahead by double digits, 28-18, on a pair of Tatiana Chapple free throws with 2:04 left before the halftime break.
However, Smith responded and repeatedly gained offensive position on the block and scored six points over the final two minutes of the half to chip the Pirates lead to 30-27.
The second half became a back-and-forth slugfest featuring six ties and nine lead changes. The sixth and final tie of the half came on King’s free throw with 1:01 on the clock.
Following the tie a wild final minute ensued with Ashley Spaletta coming up with a steal with 46-seconds left and initiating the offense to find King in dashing toward the goal and forcing the 15th team foul of the half on the Pirates.
King came through in the clutch calmly sinking both foul shots to give the Roadrunners a 59-57 edge with 31-second left.
East Carolina inbounded the ball and took a timeout to organize its offense after crossing half court.
Out of the timeout Payne got a decent look from beyond the arc on the right wing that came up empty and found the arms of King who dribbled nearly eight seconds off the clock before the Pirates were able to corral her and send the Norman, Okla. native back to the line.
Again, King knocked down both free throws to make it a two-score game, 61-57 with seven-seconds on the game clock.
With the game seemingly in tow, East Carolina wouldn’t quit as Nelson knocked down a triple from the top of the key to draw within one.
After a UTSA timeout, the Roadrunners inbounded the ball to McKenzie Adams who was fouled with one-second left. Adams missed the foul shots on the other end but didn’t allow the Pirates to get off a shot before the final buzzer sounded.
UTSA will look to extend its two-game winning streak on Saturday when it hosts Old Dominion (12-14, 5-7 C-USA) at 7 p.m. at the Convocation Center.