Considering how much North Texas has struggled over the last few months to string together wins, the way the Mean Green finally reached that milestone on Thursday in a game against Florida Atlantic seemed only appropriate.
UNT fought and scratched, narrowly escaped when the Owls had a chance to go up in the closing seconds of regulation and turned it on from there in a 66-57 overtime win.
UNT’s game against FAU was its 18th since it beat Jackson State and Southeastern Louisiana back-to-back on Dec. 8 and 16. The Mean Green finally put two together again, pulling out its overtime win over the Owls five days after hanging on for a 63-61 win at Troy.
That might not sound all that impressive, but it was a big step in the right direction for UNT, which was 5-12 since it last strung together a pair of wins.
“This was a big win to get back-to-back games,” UNT guard Jordan Williams said. “It’s been a long time since December. We finally got it together. We are going to push through this game Saturday [at South Alabama] and then through the conference tournament.”
Seemingly nothing has come easily for UNT (11-18, 6-12) this year, and its game against the Owls (12-17, 7-11) was no different.
UNT got a pair of clutch free throws from Williams in the final minute of regulation and went up for good when Roger Franklin hit a clutch 3 early in overtime.
The Mean Green cruised from there, outscoring the Owls 9-0 in the extra period.
Franklin led UNT with 20 points and was one of four players who finished in double figures for the Mean Green.
Williams added 14 points and Tony Mitchell had 12 for UNT off the bench. UNT head coach Tony Benford held Mitchell out of the starting lineup due to a violation of team rules.
“Tony is a great kid,” Benford said. “He violated team rules and we are going to be accountable. I am not going to have any academic issues. We are going to go to class and study hall and do the things we are supposed to do. I owe it to these guys’ parents to make sure these kids don’t flunk out of school.”
Mitchell finished with four blocks for UNT, which played one of its better defensive games of the season and stifled FAU in overtime when the Owls missed all eight of their shots.
Greg Gantt led FAU with 18 points, but went just 7-for-23 from the floor. Stefan Moody went 6-for-21, finished with 13 points and was the only other FAU player to finish in double figures.
On a night when neither team shot the ball well, it was a big shot from Franklin that was the difference.
The senior had the ball at the top of the key with the shot clock winding down in overtime, took one dribble and hoisted a 3-pointer that fell through — the only shot either team hit outside of free throws in the overtime period.
“I looked at the shot clock and all I could think about was making a big play,” Franklin said.
That shot certainly sufficed.
UNT shot just 36.8 percent (21-for-57) from the field, while FAU shot 35.8 percent (24-for-67).
“He had to take it,” Benford said. “When he takes a rhythm dribble like he did, it’s pretty much going in. There is no doubt that set the tone. We were getting stops, they were getting stops. A shot like that helps your defense.”
Both teams had a chance to hit the big shot in the closing seconds of regulation.
Gantt missed a runner in the lane, leaving UNT with 13.5 seconds to work with coming out of a timeout. The Mean Green got the ball to P.J. Hardwick, who missed a runner at the buzzer.
UNT took over with a solid defensive performance from that point on.
“We did a great job defensively and shut them out in overtime,” Benford said. “I told the guys that things were not flowing offensively. We had to get stops. Our defense was really sound.”
Williams and Franklin made sure UNT’s solid defensive effort resulted in a win by hitting a few key shots, including a 3-pointer from Williams at the buzzer for UNT to tie the score at 35-35 at halftime.
FAU opened the second half with an 8-0 run, but UNT responded with a 10-0 run highlighted by a Franklin dunk.
“The main thing was toughness and how we responded to adversity,” Franklin said. “Coach always tells us that nothing is going to be easy in life. That is a perfect example of responding to adversity. We pulled together instead of pulling apart.”
UNT still had a long way to go at that point, but made just enough plays down the stretch to escape with the win and its first winning streak since December.
“I am really proud of these guys,” Benford said. “We are not happy with our record. It is not where we want to be, but there is a lot of basketball to be played. We are getting better.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com
NORTH TEXAS 66, FLORIDA ATLANTIC 57 (OT)
FLORIDA ATLANTIC (12-17, 7-11) — McCoy 3-8 2-2 8, Penn 1-3 0-0 2, Morrow 1-2 1-1 3, Gantt 7-23 2-2 18, Moody 6-21 0-2 13, Sekelja 4-4 0-2 8, Mattison 0-0 0-0 0, Trapp 2-6 0-0 5. Totals 24-67 5-9 57.
NORTH TEXAS (11-18, 6-12) — Franklin 8-13 3-4 20, Coleman 1-3 0-0 2, A. Williams 2-8 6-7 10, Hardwick 4-10 0-0 8, J. Williams 3-13 7-8 14, Mitchell 3-8 6-6 12, Overlander 0-0 0-0 0, Stojiljkovic 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 21-57 22-25 66.
Halftime — 35-35. Regulation — 57-57. Three-point goals — FAU 4-19 (Gantt 2-6, Moody 1-9, Trapp 1-4), UNT 2-6 (Franklin 1-1, J. Williams 1-4, Stojiljkovic 0-1). Fouled out — McCoy. Rebounds — FAU 38 (McCoy 9), UNT 45 (Franklin 9). Assists — FAU 9 (Moody, Sekelja 3), UNT 8 (Hardwick 3). Total fouls — FAU 19, UNT 11. A 2,532.