Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of what Mike Petersen saw during what he called one of the tougher stretches in his career was the way his players reacted to it all.
UNT didn’t get down when it saw a chance to upset Oklahoma slip away late or when it couldn’t get over the hump on the road at traditional Sun Belt Conference powers Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee during a five-game losing streak that lasted nearly a month.
“This group was as resilient and as coachable as you could possibly imagine given our circumstances,” said Petersen, UNT’s first-year head coach. “There was never any, ‘Well, the heck with this.’ That is human nature. You work as hard as we are asking our players to work and you don’t get the cookie at the end of the party? It’s pretty easy to not want to work hard anymore.”
UNT kept fighting and received the reward Wednesday, when the Mean Green broke through for an 87-71 win over Troy at the Super Pit.
UNT (3-10, 2-2 Sun Belt) had a laundry list of accomplishments in the win, including posting season highs for total points and free throws made with 33, a total that ties for fifth-most in school history.
The Mean Green had several individuals post solid nights as well, including Sara Stanley, who scored a career-high 23 points.
What mattered most to UNT, though, was the bottom line — its first win since a victory over Louisiana-Lafayette to open Sun Belt play Dec. 1.
“It was a much-needed win,” Stanley said. “We did great out there.”
That was especially true offensively, as UNT had four players who finished in double figures. Alexis Hyder scored 18 points, while Loryn Goodwin added 15 and Laura McCoy 12.
“Everyone had double digits because we found the open man,” Hyder said. “Everyone had a chance to score because everyone made that extra pass or gave the extra effort to get a rebound, a tip or a deflection. That gave us extra opportunities.”
UNT cashed in on those extra opportunities, especially in the first half. Troy (3-10, 0-4) scored the first point of the game. From then on, it was all UNT.
The Mean Green went on an 18-0 run and led 50-30 after one of its best halves in recent memory. The last time UNT scored more than 50 points in a half was Jan. 31, 2008, when the Mean Green scored 51 points in the first half of an 87-53 win over South Alabama.
“Our break was pretty good and we shared the ball phenomenally,” Petersen said. “We had 13 assists on 25 field goals. That is one thing I am big on. We are first in the Sun Belt in assist-to-basket ratio. We are going to share the ball. Sara was the beneficiary of that.”
UNT continued to build its lead in the second half and led by as many as 28, despite a big night from Troy guard Ashley Beverly-Kelley. The freshman hit six 3-pointers and finished with a game-high 33 points.
Troy came into the night leading the Sun Belt with an average of 78.2 points a game and surpassed the 80-point mark in both of its previous conference games. The Trojans lost 84-81 to WKU and 81-80 to Florida Atlantic.
UNT forced 24 turnovers, including 16 in the first half when the Mean Green set the tone for the night.
“We played with really good energy and for the most part were very efficient,” Petersen said. “One thing we talked about was dictating tempo, dictating pace. Troy is first in the conference in scoring and first in the country in possessions per game. No one plays faster than Troy in the country right now.”
UNT stayed the course when times got tough over the last few weeks, even when there was no reward — no win — at the end five straight times. That changed Wednesday.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
North Texas 87, Troy 71
TROY (3-10, 0-4) — Coleman 0-0 0-0 0, Kleeman 0-2 0-0 0, Beverly-Kelley 12-23 3-3 33, McAppion 2-4 5-5 9, Bowie 2-6 2-2 6, Harden 1-2 0-0 2, Williams 0-1 0-0 0, Troell 0-3 1-2 1, McCloud 6-16 1-2 14, Pitts 1-5 4-5 6, Howard 0-1 0-0 0, Ross 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 24-65 16-19 71.
NORTH TEXAS (3-10, 2-2) — Stanley 8-10 7-9 23, Hyder 6-11 5-7 18, McCoy 3-10 4-4 12, Dawkins 2-7 2-2 6, Goodwin 3-14 8-8 15, Christian 1-2 5-6 7, Evans 0-0 0-0 0, Blakely 0-2 0-0 0, Tac 0-0 0-0 0, Nelson 2-5 2-2 6. Totals 25-61 33-38 87.
Halftime — UNT 50-30. 3-point goals — Troy 7-23 (Beverly-Kelley 6-12, Bowie 0-2, McCloud 1-6, Pitts 0-1), UNT 4-22 (Hyder 1-3, McCoy 2-8, Dawkins 0-2, Goodwin 1-6, Nelson 0-3). Fouled out — McAppion. Rebounds — Troy 33 (McCloud 8), UNT 49 (Stanley 11). Assists — Troy 11 (Pitts 6), UNT 13 (Hyder, McCoy 3). Total fouls — Troy 24, UNT 18. A — 779.