MONROE, La. — Louisiana-Monroe was about as far down as a college basketball team could be heading into its game against North Texas on Thursday.
The Warhawks had lost nine straight and had dropped each of their last three games by at least 10 points.
ULM came out of its funk against the Mean Green — not for long, a half at best — and handed UNT a second devastating loss this season.
UNT was up 15 early in the second half, only to see ULM get on a roll and run away for an 85-73 win at Fant-Ewing Coliseum.
ULM (4-17, 3-12 Sun Belt) has won just four games all season, with two of them coming against the Mean Green (9-18, 4-12).
“That last 15 minutes, we played some of the worst basketball we have played all season,” UNT forward Roger Franklin said. “We had them down 15 and let them score 50 points in 15 minutes. We had them down and needed to step on their neck and chose not to. Since we didn’t put them away, they came back and hit us and we couldn’t do anything about it.”
ULM entered the night averaging just 59.9 points per game, a total that ranked last in the Sun Belt Conference, and had surpassed the 80-point mark just once this season — in an 81-68 win over the Mean Green.
Amos Olatayo led ULM with 22 points. Millaun Brown, who came into the night averaging 5.6 points a game, added 21 and Trent Mackey 18 for the Warhawks.
“We scored enough points, but defensively we were terrible,” UNT coach Tony Benford said. “It was our worst defensive night of the year.
“We’re trying everything, but we don’t have our perimeter defenders — Chris Jones, Brandan Walton and Justin Patton. We are trying to mix it up, use zones and do everything we can. We don’t have the guards to chase on the perimeter, and if we don’t rotate in the zone, we give up 3’s.”
UNT struggled to get to ULM’s shooters without that injured trio.
The Warhawks went 9-for-16 from 3-point range.
UNT couldn’t keep up, despite solid nights offensively from Franklin and Jordan Williams, who each scored 22 points. Tony Mitchell and Alzee Williams each added 10 points for UNT, which appeared as if it would roll after taking a 42-33 lead at halftime.
Franklin and Jordan Williams each scored 15 points in the first half.
“We executed the scouting report early,” Franklin said. “Our assist-to-turnover ratio was great in the first half.”
UNT had 12 assists and just four turnovers at halftime and pushed its lead to 52-37 at the 16:41 mark before going ice-cold offensively and struggling defensively.
ULM shot 63.3 percent (19-for-30) from the floor in the second half.
“We got too comfortable down the stretch,” Jordan Williams said. “We had an opportunity to step on their neck. We didn’t have a sense of urgency.”
UNT also didn’t handle the pressure ULM applied in the second half, when the Mean Green turned the ball over 12 times and posted three assists.
“I give them credit, but I am really disappointed with the way we performed in the second half,” Benford said. “We talked about finishing and playing 40 minutes of basketball. We played 20 minutes tonight. In the second half, we turned the ball over too many times.”
The loss couldn’t have come at a worse time for UNT.
The Mean Green was coming off a win over Florida International and had a chance to win consecutive games for the first time since beating Jackson State and Southeastern Louisiana on Dec. 8 and 16, respectively.
UNT’s players talked about getting something going late in the season, but instead ended up wondering yet again what went wrong.
“We felt coming in that this was one we could get,” Benford said. “Give them credit. They took it and executed. We played 20 minutes. College basketball is 40 minutes.”
Realizing it let another opportunity get away by not fighting to the finish was tough for UNT to take.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Jordan Williams said. “We wanted to build on that win over FIU. To lose this game is tough. We have to keep going and finish strong.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com .
LOUISIANA-MONROE 85, NORTH TEXAS 73
NORTH TEXAS (9-18, 4-12) — T. Mitchell 4-8 2-3 10, Stojiljkovic 1-2 0-0 3, Hardwick 2-5 0-0 4, J. Williams 7-12 5-6 22, Franklin 8-146-8 22, A. Williams 3-12 4-4 10, A. Mitchell 0-0 0-0 0, Overlander 0-1 0-0 0, Coleman 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 26-55 17-21 73.
LOUISIANA-MONROE (4-17, 3-12) — James 1-4 2-4 4, Brown 9-10 3-4 21, McCray 4-6 1-2 10, Mackey 6-8 1-2 18, Olatayo 8-19 4-12 22, Koszuta 2-3 0-0 5, Lindsey 1-5 3-4 5. Totals 31-55 14-28 85.
Halftime — UNT 42-33. 3-point goals — UNT 4-10 (Mitchell 0-3, Stojiljkovic 1-2, J. Williams 3-5), ULM 9-16 (McCray 1-1, Mackey 5-7, Olatayo 2-5, Koszuta 1-2, Lindsey 0-1). Fouled out none. Rebounds — UNT 31 (Franklin 11), ULM 29 (Brown 8). Assists — UNT 15 (Hardwick 5), ULM 19 (McCray 6). Total fouls — UNT 21, ULM 16. A — 904.