BOCA RATON, Fla. — North Texas knew it was in a tough spot heading into its game at Florida Atlantic on Saturday night.
UNT took just eight scholarship players on the road for games at Florida International and FAU and lost one of them when Alzee Williams was injured late in a loss to the Golden Panthers.
The situation only increased the pressure on Tony Mitchell, who clearly was in the spotlight in UNT’s game against the Owls and came through with a big performance in a 61-59 overtime win at FAU Arena.
Mitchell scored 24 points to go with eight rebounds on a night the Mean Green had to play an extra period and still managed to win with a shorthanded team.
“It shows a team’s character when you face adversity, and we faced some tonight,” UNT coach Tony Benford said.
UNT (8-12, 3-6 Sun Belt) had four players on the floor for at least 39 minutes, including P.J. Hardwick, who didn’t rest while playing the full 45 minutes.
The Mean Green had little choice other than to put the ball in Hardwick’s hands the entire night after Williams went down with a sprained right knee, an injury UNT’s trainers will further evaluate when the team returns to Denton.
UNT received huge performances and clutch plays from multiple players, including Mitchell, who bounced back in a big way after failing to score against FIU.
“I told Tony last night that he has to step up and play hard,” Benford said. “I told him that no one can guard him. He guards himself sometimes.”
UNT entered its game against FAU (10-10, 5-4) with a 3-1 record when Mitchell takes at least 15 shots and added another win to that total after the sophomore went 8 for 19 from the field.
UNT’s Jordan Williams added 14 points and Roger Franklin had 12.
Greg Gantt scored 22 points for FAU.
“I had to do the things to help my team win and take shots,” Mitchell said. “That is what I did.”
Mitchell was quick to point out that UNT needed much more than his big night to pull off the win. In fact, it was one of his misses that set up arguably the biggest play of the night for UNT — a putback by Franklin just before the end of regulation after FAU made a late run.
The Mean Green appeared to have the game wrapped up in regulation following a Hardwick free throw with 1:47 left that gave the Mean Green a 51-47 lead.
Dragan Sekelja hit a layup to pull FAU within 51-49. The Owls then picked up a steal and went back ahead when Gantt hit a 3-pointer, giving FAU a 52-51 lead.
Gantt went to the line with 20 seconds left and hit the first of two free throws before missing the second, leaving FAU with a 53-51 lead.
UNT worked the ball to Mitchell, who missed a shot from the baseline before Franklin grabbed the ball and scored with 1.8 seconds left to send the game to overtime.
“Coach says that you win games on second shots,” Franklin said. “When Tony shot it, Jordan [Williams] and I were in good position. I just went up and laid it in. I was in the right place at the right time and had a little luck. It rolled off and right to me.”
Hardwick hit a pair of free throws in the opening minute of overtime and UNT grabbed a 60-56 lead before FAU made one final push.
Gantt hit a 3 to pull FAU within 60-59.
Hardwick made one of two from the free-throw line with 21 seconds left, leaving FAU with plenty of time to tie the game.
The Owls got two shots off but missed both, and UNT escaped with the win on a night Mitchell was more aggressive.
Mitchell broke his scoreless drought right off the bat, burying a 3 from the wing and combining with Jordan Williams to lead UNT on a 15-3 run to open the game.
Mitchell dunked off an alley-oop before Williams followed with a dunk of his own to highlight UNT’s early surge.
FAU answered with a 13-2 run of its own and took its only lead of the first half in the closing seconds when Andre Mattison scored to put the Owls up 22-21.
Williams hit a pair of free throws late to give UNT a 23-22 halftime lead.
Williams scored 12 points and Mitchell added 10 in the opening period. The two combined for all but one of UNT’s points in the first half, when Justin Patton added a free throw.
Patton’s free throw was the only bench point UNT would get all night.
That didn’t matter, largely because Mitchell came back from his off night at FIU with one of his better all-around outings of the season.
“Tony knows that he has to produce,” Benford said. “That was the most aggressive I have seen him in a long time. He has to continue to play that way.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
UNT 61, Florida Atlantic 59
NORTH TEXAS (8-12, 3-6) — T. Mitchell 8-19 6-11 24, Stojiljkovic 0-3 2-2 2, Hardwick 2-3 4-6 8, Williams 3-8 8-8 14, Franklin 5-9 2-2 12, A. Mitchell 0-0 0-0 0, Patton 0-2 1-2 1, Coleman 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 18-47 23-31 61.
FLORIDA ATLANTIC (10-10, 5-4) — McCoy 1-2 2-3 4, Penn 0-1 0-0 0, Gantt 6-17 5-9 22, Bertone 0-4 0-0 0, Moody 5-12 1-2 12, Sekelja 4-9 0-0 8, Mattison 3-6 1-2 7, Trapp 2-6 1-1 6, Bryant 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-57 10-17 59.
Halftime — UNT 23-22. Regulation — Tied, 53-53. 3-point goals — UNT 2-9 (T. Mitchell 2-6, Stojiljkovic 0-2, Williams 0-1). FAU 7-20 (Gantt 5-11, Bertone 0-2, Moody 1-4, Sekelja 0-1, Trapp 1-2). Fouled out — Penn. Rebounds — UNT 38 (Mitchell 8), FAU 36 (Sekelja 7). Assists — UNT 10 (Hardwick 5), FAU 13 (Trapp 6). Total fouls — UNT 15, FAU 20. A — 1,797.