When it comes to pleasant memories of the last few years, games against Middle Tennessee don’t rank high on the list for the North Texas women.
UNT has lost in heartbreaking fashion and also has been blown out. What the Mean Green hasn’t done in a long, long time is win.
UNT has lost nine straight to the Blue Raiders, a streak the Mean Green will look to stop at 5 p.m. today in the opener of a doubleheader that will conclude with the men’s game.
There isn’t a player on UNT’s roster who has experienced a win over MTSU.
“They have really good players and are really well coached,” UNT coach Mike Petersen said of MTSU. “That is a dangerous combination. They have historically been the strongest program in this conference.
“One of the things that helps a program like Middle Tennessee is they expect to win. That is a powerful weapon.”
UNT (7-11, 6-3 Sun Belt) has been on the verge of breaking through on multiple occasions in recent years. The Mean Green just needed a defensive stand to close out a win over MTSU earlier this year, but saw Icelyn Elie hit a 3-pointer from the corner in the closing seconds to give the Blue Raiders a 66-64 win.
UNT lost 70-68 last season at the Super Pit.
Those close calls have made UNT even more focused on its latest opportunity to post a signature victory over one of the conference’s top teams.
MTSU (13-5, 8-1) has been to six of the last seven NCAA tournaments and is tied for the Sun Belt East Division lead again this year.
“Every year they are at the top of the conference and go to the NCAA tournament,” UNT guard Laura McCoy said. “They are difficult to beat, but we are ready to do it.”
The key for UNT could be handling MTSU’s pressure. The Blue Raiders play an up-and-down style and will put pressure on UNT, which will be without backup point guard Hannah Christian. The junior is suffering from concussion-like symptoms and is not expected to play today.
UNT will lean on freshman Alexis Hyder in what could shape up to be a showdown between two of the Sun Belt’s top post players. Hyder leads UNT with an average of 13.7 points per game, while MTSU junior Ebony Rowe is posting 21.7 points a game.
While UNT has not beaten MTSU recently, it has posted a few other milestone victories, including a win at Arkansas-Little Rock this month. UNT is tied with Arkansas State atop the West Division.
“Middle Tennessee is one of the flagship programs in this league,” Petersen said. “That is why the win over Little Rock was so big. They have won our division several times. Middle has won the league several times. It becomes a big game.”
The MTSU men (16-4, 8-1) have been just as successful as the women’s team and enter the night with the best record in the Sun Belt. The Blue Raiders have won five straight and are the conference’s best defensive team.
MTSU is allowing just 58.3 points per game and beat UNT 75-57 Dec. 31 in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
UNT (8-12, 3-6) will look to Tony Mitchell and P.J. Hardwick to help avenge that loss. Mitchell is averaging 14.4 points a game and is coming off a 24-point outing in a win over Florida Atlantic, while Hardwick will have to handle the ball most of the night due to a series of injuries UNT has sustained over the last several weeks.
Starting guard Alzee Williams is not expected to play tonight due to a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee. That will make what is expected to be a tough game against MTSU even more challenging.
“Middle Tennessee is an [NCAA] tournament team right now,” Benford said. “They are as balanced a team as we have played all year. I put them up there with Creighton. They are that good. They are a top 25-30 team in the country.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-69870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .