North Texas has been searching for the jolt it needs to turn its season around over the last few weeks, as the Mean Green lost five of six games.
UNT is hoping it finally found it Saturday night, when the Mean Green put together one of its best all-around performances this season in a 66-56 win over South Alabama at the Super Pit.
The Mean Green didn’t have a lot to work with because of injuries and compensated. All five of UNT’s starters finished in double figures and the Mean Green contained Augustine Rubit, one of the Sun Belt Conference’s best players.
The win couldn’t have come at a better time for UNT, which will head out on a tough road trip to Florida Atlantic and Florida International next week.
“We really needed this one,” UNT guard Jordan Williams said. “They are one of the best teams in the conference. We just talked about it in the locker room. This is the game that is going to get us going this year.”
UNT (7-11, 2-5 SBC) clearly needed a spark after losing its last two games, leaving the Mean Green as the last team in the Sun Belt without at least two wins in league play.
The Mean Green was unsure who it would have available for its game against USA (8-8, 5-3), but was able to squeeze 14 combined minutes out of Jacob Holmen and Justin Patton, who have been battling foot and knee injuries, respectively.
Patton scored four points — the only four points UNT got from its bench on a night when four of its five starters played at least 33 minutes. Junior Alzee Williams never came off the floor, while Tony Mitchell came out for just one minute.
What might have been even more important was the play of freshman point guard P.J. Hardwick, who scored a career-high 14 points to go along with seven rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes.
Mitchell also scored 14 points, while Jordan Williams (13), Alzee Williams (11) and Roger Franklin (10) reached double figures.
Franklin also played a key role on the defensive end, helping limit Rubit, USA’s star forward, to 12 points on 2-for-8 shooting.
Rubit came into the night averaging 19.7 points a game.
“We wanted to limit Rubit’s touches, UNT coach Tony Benford said. “We played off of a couple of their guards and did a good job of helping. We were aware of where Rubit was at all times.”
UNT held Rubit to just three points in the first half, when the Mean Green went on a key 16-2 run.
Jordan Williams hit a jumper before Mitchell added two free throws and a dunk following a Hardwick steal. Franklin capped the run with a jumper that gave UNT a 22-6 lead.
UNT went on to take a 36-22 lead after one of its better defensive halves of the season. The Mean Green limited USA to 21.2 percent (7 for 33) shooting from the floor.
UNT appeared as if it would coast when it cook a 49-28 lead early in the second half, but saw USA work its way back behind Rubit and Freddie Goldstein, who finished with 12 points.
The Jaguars pulled to within 55-49 with 1:55 left on a pair of free throws from Mychal Ammons.
UNT answered when Jordan Williams and Hardwick combined to hit four straight from the free-throw line, where the Mean Green thrived all night.
UNT went 29 for 34 from the line, where USA managed to hit just 15 of 29 attempts.
“The free-throw line was big tonight,” Mitchell said. “We struggled a little on the free-throw line our last home game against ULM and got a lot of shots up after practice.”
That extra effort paid off for UNT, which sees the win as something it can build on the rest of the season.
“This is one of the best games we have played,” Jordan Williams said. “Coach was talking about it. We came out and played well the first 20 minutes and came back and played well for another 20 minutes. We played the whole game.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
UNT 66, South Alabama 56
SOUTH ALABAMA (8-8, 5-3) — Rubit 2-8 8-11 12, Carter 1-7 1-2 3, Conner 3-6 1-3 8, Goldstein 5-18 0-0 12, Allen 3-11 0-0 8, Anderson 0-2 1-2 1, Stevens 1-3 0-0 2, Ammons 3-9 4-11 10, Juricek 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-64 15-29 56.
NORTH TEXAS (7-11, 2-5) — T. Mitchell 5-14 4-4 14, Franklin 2-7 6-8 10, A. Williams 5-9 1-2 11, Hardwick 2-8 10-12 14, J. Williams 4-10 4-4 13, Holmen 0-2 0-0 0, A. Mitchell 0-0 0-0 0, Patton 0-1 4-4 4, Stojiljkovic 0-0 0-0 0, Coleman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-51 29-34 66.
Halftime — UNT 36-22. 3-point goals — USA 5-21 (Conner 1-1, Goldstein 2-9, Allen 2-6, Anderson 0-1, Stevens 0-1, Ammons 0-3), UNT 1-9 (Mitchell 0-4, J. Williams 1-3, Holmen 0-1, Patton 0-1). Fouled out — Franklin. Rebounds — USA 46 (Rubit 9), UNT 42 (Mitchell 11). Assists — USA 5 (Conner 2), UNT 7 (Hardwick 4). Total fouls — USA 24, UNT 22. A — 3,642.