JONESBORO, Ark. — North Texas entered its game against Arkansas State looking for redemption after a devastating and historic loss to Louisiana-Lafayette on Thursday.
UNT played one of its worst games in recent memory against the Ragin’ Cajuns, who hammered the Mean Green by 31.
UNT played a lot better against the Red Wolves on Saturday night at the Convocation Center and still lost, quite possibly in an even more disheartening fashion — a 75-66 overtime stunner.
The Mean Green had a four-point lead with a pair of free throws on the way with 43.1 seconds left, only to let the game slip away and suffer its fourth straight loss.
ASU hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final 14 seconds and delivered the knockout blow in overtime, when the Red Wolves outscored UNT 16-7.
“It’s real emotional right now,” UNT guard Alzee Williams said. “Everyone in the locker room is feeling it. We wanted to come and get the win. We knew it was going to be tough. We just came up short.”
UNT (8-16, 3-10 Sun Belt) will finish with a losing record in the regular season for the first time since the 2003-04 campaign. UNT coach Tony Benford focused on the fact that the Mean Green came close to staving off that fate for at least another night, especially after its 105-74 loss to ULL, its worst setback in a conference game since the 2002-03 season.
“Our guys showed a lot of character coming back after playing the worst basketball of the season the other night,” Benford said. “We had a team meeting and hashed things out. We came out and played to win tonight.”
UNT was in perfect position to bury the memories of its loss to the Ragin’ Cajuns in the closing minute. The Mean Green was up four and had a chance to push it to six with 43.1 seconds left in regulation when Clarke Overlander went to the line for a pair of free throws.
Overlander missed the first but hit the second to give UNT a 58-53 lead.
ASU (14-8, 8-5) took a timeout with 35.2 seconds left and got off six 3-point attempts, the last of which Rakeem Dickerson hit to pull the Red Wolves to within 58-56.
“We had a lot of guys cramping up, but at the end of the night, you have to rebound the basketball,” Benford said. “They had [six] attempts at the 3. You can’t have that. I thought about fouling there. That is strategy we will look at.”
UNT still had a chance to ice the game when Alzee Williams went to the line with 12.5 seconds left, but he made just one of two, leaving ASU with a chance to tie.
Cameron Golden did just that, hitting a 3 with four seconds left.
“I left it a little short,” Williams said. “As a team, we needed to knock down free throws. If we did, we wouldn’t have been in that situation.”
UNT went 5 for 8 from the line in the final 1:54.
The Mean Green still had a chance to win the game but turned the ball over on the inbounds play following Golden’s 3.
Trey Finn nearly finished off the Mean Green at the buzzer, but he left a jumper short.
Jordan Williams led UNT with 18 points, while Tony Mitchell added 14 and Alzee Williams 10.
Golden scored 18 points to lead five players in double figures for ASU.
UNT was shorthanded heading into overtime after point guard P.J. Hardwick fouled out in regulation, partly because he and Dickerson were called for a double foul that also counted as a double technical foul late in regulation.
ASU started its overtime run on a three-point play from Golden, who drew Roger Franklin’s fifth foul on the play.
“That was a huge call because that was also Roger’s fifth foul,” UNT guard Jordan Williams said.
UNT showed early on that it was ready to play, led for most of the first half and hit two big treys in the final minute to open up a 36-28 lead at halftime.
UNT had a tenuous 30-28 lead late in the half before Jordan Williams hit his second 3 of the game. The Mean Green made a defensive stop and had just enough time to get one final look at the basket. UNT ended up with a shot from beyond the arc from Niko Stojiljkovic, who banked it in with four seconds left. The 3 was just his fifth on 20 attempts this season.
Benford and his players credited their effort against ASU to the talk they had after arriving in Jonesboro.
“We came out with a lot of intensity,” Jordan Williams said. “We had a sit-down talk after we got here.”
Benford was pleased with the way his team responded.
“People said after the other night that our kids quit,” Benford said. “Our guys won’t quit. They are good kids who are fighting.”
UNT fought to the finish against ASU. The Mean Green just couldn’t finish the game.
Arkansas State 75, UNT 66
NORTH TEXAS (8-15, 3-9) — Mitchell 6-17 0-3 14, A. Williams 2-10 6-8 10, Hardwick 2-4 1-2 5, J. Williams 6-15 3-4 18, Franklin 3-9 1-2 7, Overlander 2-3 1-2 6, Stojiljkovic 1-3 1-2 4, Coleman 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 23-63 12-23 66.
ARKANSAS STATE (13-8, 7-5) — Petersen 0-7 0-2 0, Golden 6-13 2-6 18, Finn 3-12 6-6 14, Hooten 1-3 0-0 2, Townsel 3-12 8-10 15, Dickerson 3-4 1-2 8, Downs 2-3 0-0 4, Worsham 2-6 0-0 4, Washington 2-4 6-9 10. Totals 22-64 23-35 75.
Halftime — UNT, 36-28. Regulation — Tied, 59-59. 3-point goals — ASU 7-18 (Mitchell 2-6, A. Williams 0-1, J. Williams 3-7, Franklin 0-1, Overlander 1-2, Stojiljkovic 1-1), ASU 8-28 (Golden 4-9, Finn 2-10, Townsel 1-7, Dickerson 1-1, Worsham 0-1). Fouled out — Hardwick, Franklin, Dickerson. Rebounds — UNT 42 (Franklin 10), ASU 44 (Peterson 14). Assists — UNT 7 (Hardwick 3), ASU 11 (Finn 3). Total fouls — UNT 27, ASU 16. Technical fouls — Hardwick, bench. ASU Dickerson. A — 3,786.