North Texas appeared to be on course to finally break its Middle Tennessee jinx Thursday.
Loryn Goodwin and Laura McCoy hit just about every shot they took from 3-point range and the Mean Green quickly built a double-digit lead.
A start like that would be enough to shake the confidence of many teams.
Not the Blue Raiders.
UNT coach Mike Petersen spoke of the confidence MTSU built while advancing to six of the last seven NCAA tournaments heading into the Mean Green’s showdown with the Blue Raiders.
That confidence was on full display Thursday during MTSU’s 60-47 win at the Super Pit in a showdown between teams tied atop their respective divisions in the Sun Belt Conference.
UNT came into the night with plenty of motivation to beat the Blue Raiders after losing the last nine games in the series, but it couldn’t reach that goal — not even after taking a 15-2 lead.
“They are not going to shut down,” Petersen said of MTSU. “They are used to winning this league. They are used to winning on the xqroad. They have probably the best player in our league in Ebony Rowe. They are playing with juniors and seniors and have been behind before.”
More often than not, MTSU (14-5, 9-1 Sun Belt) has come back no matter the situation. UNT (7-12, 6-4) knew that from experience.
The Mean Green, which came into the night tied with Arkansas State atop the West Division, lost to MTSU when Icelyn Elie drained a late 3-pointer to help give the Blue Raiders a 66-64 win last month. The win was MTSU’s second straight by two points in the series. MTSU, which entered Thursday tied with Western Kentucky atop the East Division, beat UNT 70-68 last season.
The Blue Raiders made sure the latest game in the series wouldn’t be that close, with a solid defensive performance after UNT’s early run.
The Mean Green shot just 18.5 percent (5-for-27) from the floor in the second half, when MTSU outscored UNT 33-17.
The 17 points UNT scored in the second half was its lowest output of the season, just below the 18 the Mean Green scored in the first half of a win over St. Bonaventure.
“We have to focus,” UNT point guard Laura McCoy said. “We went through a couple of stretches were we didn’t score. That’s execution.”
The most costly of those stretches came early in the second half.
MTSU did not lead the game until Kortni Jones hit a 3-pointer to put the Blue Raiders up 35-34. Jones’ 3 sparked a 13-0 run by the Blue Raiders.
UNT was down 45-36 by the time Acheil Tac hit a jumper to end the run.
The Mean Green never seriously threatened the rest of the way.
“They did a very good job of disrupting us offensively,” Petersen said. “We didn’t handle it well at all. For the first time this season, we came apart offensively. We were very disjointed and disrupted. We didn’t stay together on the offensive end.”
Loryn Goodwin continued her recent hot streak while leading UNT with 21 points. McCoy added 10 and was the only other UNT player to finish in double figures.
Goodwin has scored at least 19 points in each of UNT’s last three games.
The freshman’s big night just wasn’t enough to offset typically big nights from Jones and Rowe. Jones finished with 23 points, while Rowe finished with 22. Both have surpassed the 1,000-point mark for their careers.
“I have gained confidence as the season has gone along,” Goodwin said. “I don’t have to think about the plays as much. I can just play basketball. Also, my teammates are looking for me. Everything is in the flow of the game now.”
UNT was in a groove early, hitting its first four attempts from beyond the 3-point arc, and scored the last three points of its opening run on three free throws from Goodwin after she was fouled on a 3-point attempt.
“The last couple of games, we have come out on fire and started off on track,” Goodwin said. “We have to keep that up the whole game. Maybe it’s fatigue or we face adversity and are not used to it. I don’t know.”
UNT’s inability to maintain its early pace came back to haunt the Mean Green when MTSU went on a 12-3 run over a span of 6:57 in which UNT’s only points came on an extra-long 3 from Goodwin with the shot clock running out.
MTSU got as close as 29-27 late in the first half before BreAnna Dawkins hit a free throw with six seconds left to give UNT a 30-27 lead at halftime.
The Blue Raiders quickly took control after the break.
“Middle Tennessee is very good,” Petersen said. “If you are going to beat Middle Tennessee, you can’t both give up 21 offensive rebounds and miss the kinds of shots we missed. Part of the reason we missed some shots we usually made is they disrupted us. Some credit has to go to them.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Middle Tennessee 60, UNT 47
MIDDLE TENNESSEE (14-5, 9-1) — Elie 5-12 0-0 10, Rowe 9-13 4-6 22, March 0-2 0-0 0, Cason 0-1 0-0 0, Jones 8-28 1-2 23, Brinkley 0-1 0-0 0, Warden 0-1 0-0 0, Stewart 0-2 0-0 0, Leonard 2-8 1-2 5. Totals 24-68 6-10 60.
NORTH TEXAS (7-12, 6-4) — Stanley 0-9 2-2 2, Hyder 1-3 0-3 2, McCoy 4-13 0-0 10, Dawkins 2-10 1-2 6, Goodwin 5-10 7-7 21, Evans 0-0 0-0 0, Blakely 0-0 0-0 0, Tac 1-1 0-0 2, Nelson 2-5 0-0 4. Totals 15-51 10-14 47.
Halftime — UNT 30-27. 3-point goals — MTSU 6-27 (Elie 0-1, Cason 0-1, Jones 6-21, Brinkley 0-1, Warden 0-1, Leonard 0-2), UNT 7-17 (Stanley 0-1, Hyder 0-1, McCoy 2-6, Dawkins 1-2, Goodwin 4-6, Nelson 0-1). Fouled out — none. Rebounds — MTSU 48 (Rowe 14), UNT 36 (Stanley 7). Assists — MTSU 11 (Leonard 4), UNT 7 (Stanley 4). Total fouls — MTSU 15, UNT 16. A — 865.