BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — North Texas was right there again Saturday, on the road in one of the toughest places to win a game in the Sun Belt Conference with a chance to pull off a huge upset.
This time it was Western Kentucky, where the Mean Green’s series of frustrating early-season losses continued.
UNT was locked in a back-and-forth game with the Hilltoppers at E.A. Diddle Arena, where the Mean Green has never won, and saw WKU come up with just enough key plays down the stretch to grab an 82-80 win.
UNT (2-10, 1-2 SBC) has lost five straight, including three losses by three points or less.
The Mean Green came into the day off a loss to Middle Tennessee in which Icelyn Elie hit a back-breaking 3-pointer to sink UNT in the final minute.
UNT has lost all nine games it has played at Diddle in program history and has lost all seven of its games on the road this season.
“I am not a big believer in frustration,” UNT head coach Mike Petersen said. “Frustration never solved anything. It’s disappointing, but I’m not disappointed in our players. I am disappointed for our players. We went out on the road and played the hardest road swing in the Sun Belt at two places North Texas has never won and were in it at the last possession of both games. I recognize growth and progress.”
It would have been easy for UNT to be a little frustrated after nothing seemed to go its way late against WKU (11-2, 4-0).
UNT battled back from an eight-point, second-half deficit with 6:36 left and had a chance to tie the game or take the lead, but Braylah Blakely was called for a moving screen on an in-bounds play with 20.2 seconds left.
“I thought given the amount of contact in the entirety of the game, that was an unusual whistle in that situation,” Petersen said.
Bianca McGee hit one of two free throws with 18.6 seconds left to put WKU up 79-76.
UNT pulled to within one twice in the final 15 seconds, the first time when BreAnna Dawkins hit a pair of free throws with 15.7 seconds left.
McGee answered with two free throws of her own with 13.8 seconds remaining.
Laura McCoy hit a layup to get UNT back within one 81-80 left before Alex Govan answered with a free throw with 3.4 seconds left.
UNT pushed the ball up the floor, but was only able to get a halfcourt heave from Dawkins that didn’t come close to spoiling a big night for Govan.
The San Antonio Stevens product tormented UNT all night on her way to scoring a career-high 40 points.
Govan hit all but four of her 20 shots from the floor, including both of her 3-point attempts. She also went 6 for 9 from the free-throw line.
“It was the baseline drive,” UNT forward Sara Stanley said of Govan’s go-to move. “We let her get going in the first half.”
Govan scored four of her points during a key 5-0 run that helped the Hilltoppers grab a 43-36 at the end of what was a tight game throughout the first half.
Govan hit a jumper before McGee went to the line with nine seconds left in the half and hit the first of two free throws. The second bounced out of bounds off Acheil Tac, giving WKU one last chance.
Govan took advantage, hitting a layup to cap a remarkable first half in which she scored 24 points while hitting all but two of her 13 shots from the floor, including a 3-pointer.
“We let Govan get going,” Petersen said. “She is the second-leading scorer in the conference. If you let a kid like that get going, it’s hard to stop her.”
UNT had to try to keep pace with Govan and WKU instead and pushed the Hilltoppers to the finish, thanks to a big night from Dawkins, who led three Mean Green players in double figure with 22 points.
Alexis Hyder added 18 points and Stanley had 16.
UNT leaned heavily on Dawkins after Hyder fouled out with 6:51 left in the second half.
“I did what coach told me to do late,” Dawkins said. “He told me to take it. He told me to drive the ball.”
Dawkins scored nine of her points after Hyder fouled out but couldn’t prevent UNT from suffering another tough loss in a game that went down to the final possession.
“We were on the road down seven and our leading scorer and rebounder had fouled out,” Petersen said of Hyder. “We don’t have toughness or a character problem or any of that. A lot of kids stepped up.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
Western Kentucky 82, North Texas 80
NORTH TEXAS (2-10, 1-2) — Stanley 7-13 2-2 16, Hyder 7-15 4-4 18, McCoy 2-5 2-2 7, Dawkins 7-14 8-8 22, Goodwin 1-9 5-6 8, Christian 0-3 2-2 2, Blakely 0-0 0-1 0, Tac 1-4 0-0 2, Nelson 1-4 2-2 5. Totals 26-67 25-27 80.
WESTERN KENTUCKY (11-2, 4-0) — Gooch 5-14 5-7 15, McClain 2-7 5-9 9, Means 0-2 4-4 4, Govan 16-20 6-9 40, McGee 3-9 4-6 12, Jones 0-3 0-0 0, Wright 1-1 0-0 2, Johnson 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 27-57 24-35 82.
Halftime — WKU 43-36. 3-point goals — UNT 3-14 (Hyder 0-1, McCoy 1-2, Dawkins 0-1, Goodwin 1-6, Christian 0-1, Tac 0-1, Nelson 1-2), WKU 4-12 (Means 0-1, Govan 2-2, McGee 2-6, Jones 0-3). Fouled out — Hyder. Rebounds — UNT 45 (Stanley, Hyder 9), WKU 33 (Gooch 11). Assists — UNT 17 (Dawkins 7), WKU 14 (Gooch, Means, McGee 3). Total fouls — UNT 24, WKU 18. A — 1,123.