MOBILE, Ala. — An all-too-familiar — not to mention unpleasant — scenario played out for North Texas on Saturday.
UNT was up big early on South Alabama and had a chance to pick up a win and some momentum late in the Sun Belt Conference season.
That opportunity slipped away in a 65-61 loss to the Jaguars at the Mitchell Center.
The loss was UNT’s fifth in its last six games and its second in a row under similar circumstances.
UNT blew a 14-point lead in a loss to Florida Atlantic on Wednesday.
Those are just the types of losses UNT (10-18, 9-10) can’t afford late in the season — not if it wants to improve its seeding for the Sun Belt tournament next month, and not to mention get to the point where it feels good about the way it is playing heading into the postseason.
“It has been a struggle late in the season,” UNT coach Mike Petersen said. “If I had the answer, we wouldn’t be struggling. Part of it is in the last couple of games we have been missing shots we had been making. We need that maturity level to go on and make the next play.”
Both UNT and USA (15-12, 8-10) had to work their way through offensive droughts in their second meeting of the season.
The difference was USA did a better job of fighting through its funk behind four players who finished in double figures, including Mansa El. The Jaguars starting point guard, who began her career at UNT before transferring to Tallahassee Community College and then USA, finished with a game-high 19 points.
Alexis Hyder led UNT with 16 points. Desiree Nelson added 10 points and was the only other player who scored in double figures for UNT.
The Jaguars had lost seven of their last eight and lost to UNT 67-47 in the teams’ first meeting.
UNT appeared as if it might roll by USA again early in the first half when the Mean Green went on an 11-0 run and grabbed a 17-6 lead, thanks largely to Hyder and a solid start defensively.
Hyder scored seven points during UNT’s run, and the Mean Green’s defense suffocated USA, holding the Jaguars scoreless for 7:09.
El finally broke the Jaguars drought with a layup.
UNT was up 26-18 after Hyder hit a free throw with 3:40 left but didn’t score the rest of the half.
USA took advantage by rolling off a 13-0 run to take a 31-26 lead at halftime. Mary Nixon scored all six of her points in the first half during the run that included a 3 from Camille Reynolds.
We relaxed a little,” Hyder said. “Every team is going to make a run. It’s how you respond to that run. We have to stop runs when other teams get going and then respond.”
UNT did respond in the second half behind Nelson.
The junior didn’t play in UNT’s game against FAU on Thursday and had gone four games without scoring.
“I talked to Desiree before the game,” Petersen said. “Our last game, BreAnna [Dawkins] and Loryn [Goodwin] were carrying the scoring load. I went with them. I told Desiree that at the 10-minute mark she was going in. She did a super job.”
UNT trailed 55-39 with 8:06 left before Nelson scored all 10 of points in a 14-2 run that cut USA’s lead to 57-53 at the 2:48 mark.
“I took what the defense gave me,” Nelson said. “I wanted to get in there and contribute. Coach told me when he put me in to go in and play hard.”
USA pushed its lead back to eight on a jumper from Ronneka Robertson and a pair of free throws from El.
UNT pulled to within 64-61 on a Goodwin 3 with 16 seconds but would get no closer.
“For the first 10 minutes and the last eight minutes, we were a really good basketball team,” Petersen said. “Between we got frustrated when we didn’t make shots. We got frustrated when we didn’t get calls. Good teams don’t get frustrated. They just keep playing. Our frustration led to not having the right effort.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-5666-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
South Alabama 65, North Texas 61
NORTH TEXAS (10-18, 9-10) — Stanley 3-7 0-0 6, Hyder 6-15 4-6 16, McCoy 1-3 0-0 3, Dawkins 4-13 0-0 8, Goodwin 2-10 2-3 7, Christian 3-7 2-2 9, Evans 0-0 0-0 0, Blakely 1-1 0-0 2, Nelson 4-8 0-0 10. Totals 24-64 8-11 61.
SOUTH ALABAMA (15-12, 8-10) — Wright 4-9 2-5 10, Cherizol 0-2 0-0 0, Reynolds 5-12 0-0 14, Nixon 5-13 0-0 11, El 5-12 8-12 19, Dunn 1-7 0-0 2, Webb 1-3 0-0 3, Cumbo 0-2 0-0 0, Robertson 3-3 0-0 6. Totals 24-63 10-17 65.
Halftime — USA 31-26. Three-point goals — UNT 5-13 (Hyder 0-1, McCoy 1-2, Goodwin 1-2, Christian 1-4, Nelson 2-4), USA 7-31 (Cherizol 0-1, Reynolds 4-9, Nixon 1-5, El 1-6, Dunn 0-5, Webb 1-3 Cumbo 0-2). Fouled out — Goodwin. Rebounds — UNT 48 (Hyder 12), USA 38 (Robertson 8). Assists — UNT 10 (McCoy, Christian 3), USA 10 (El 3). Total fouls — UNT 22, USA 12. A — NA.