HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — North Texas had chance after chance to put away Louisiana-Lafayette and reach another milestone in its first season under head coach Mike Petersen.
UNT blew one opportunity after another before KeKe Veal finally put the Mean Green away, hitting a 3-pointer that gave ULL the jolt it needed to pull away for an 80-74 double-overtime win at Summit Arena on Friday in the opening round of the Sun Belt Conference tournament.
ULL hit 11 shots from beyond the arc and won its first Sun Belt tournament game since 2007. The Ragin’ Cajus (10-20) were seeded 11th in the 11-team tournament and advanced to face Western Kentucky after upsetting UNT, the sixth seed.
UNT had won at least one Sun Belt tournament game in four of the last five seasons.
“This is disappointing because we wanted to leave it all on the floor with a win and not a loss,” UNT forward Alexis Hyder said. “The fact that we worked so hard to come back, played two overtimes and still lost hurts. We fought back so hard and didn’t come out with what we wanted.”
UNT (11-19) just couldn’t come up with the big play when it needed it at the end of the game.
The Mean Green had four-point leads early in both overtime periods and turned the ball over twice in the final 70 seconds of regulation with the score tied at 58.
“We had opportunities to drive it out when we had the lead late and didn’t,” Petersen said. “We just didn’t handle those situations very well.”
UNT appeared as if it might pull away in the second overtime when BreAnna Dawkins hit a layup and Sara Stanley followed with a pair of free throws to put the Mean Green up 70-66.
ULL came back to tie the game at 70 while UNT piled up key fouls. Hyder fouled out at the 3:51 mark of the second overtime, Dawkins fouled out with 2:45 on the clock and Laura McCoy with 31 seconds left.
Those fouls loomed large after Veal hit a 3 that put ULL up 73-70 and sparked an 8-0 run that helped the Ragin’ Cajuns pull away for the win.
ULL outscored UNT 14-8 in the second overtime, and the Mean Green scored four of its points in the final 10 seconds after the Ragin’ Cajuns had put the game away.
“We had some issues at the end because of foul trouble, but we were in foul trouble because we weren’t the aggressor,” Petersen said. “They played with more energy, and we were not in good position when we fouled. We committed a lot of our fouls on offensive rebounds. They got offensive rebounds at critical times.”
Hyder led UNT with a double-double that included 25 points and 12 rebounds. Loryn Goodwin added 14 points, McCoy had 13 and Stanley 10.
Veal led five ULL players who finished in double figures with 17 points. Sylvana Okde added 16 points and hit five 3-pointers in what was a close game from late in regulation until the Ragin’ Cajuns pulled away.
ULL guard Ashley Benjamin tied the game at 58 with 1:37 left in regulation on a free throw.
UNT had two chances to pull ahead late in regulation but turned the ball over both times, leaving ULL with the ball and a chance to win coming out of a timeout with 19.7 seconds left.
Hyder came up with the key play to send the game into overtime for UNT, swatting Veal’s shot away with two seconds left.
UNT took a 62-58 lead in the first overtime on a pair of Hyder free throws but once again couldn’t close the game. UNT led 66-64, but Benjamin stole the ball from McCoy and hit a layup. McCoy had a chance to win the game, but her runner on UNT’s final possession came up short.
“At the end of the game and both overtimes, we had an opportunity to score after getting a stop and couldn’t,” McCoy said. “That’s what prevented us from winning.”
The fact UNT had a chance at all was a surprise considering the way the Mean Green played early.
UNT got off to a terrible start and fell into a 23-7 hole when ULL went on a tear from 3-point range. Okde hit four treys in a 19-2 ULL run.
The Ragin’ Cajuns hit six 3-pointers in the half and appeared as if they would cruise when UNT struggled offensively. UNT hit just one shot from the floor in a span of 12:18 — a Goodwin layup.
“We lacked focus,” Hyder said. “We were just out there playing instead of playing hard.”
Hyder broke the drought with a jumper and sparked a huge run by the Mean Green in the closing moments of the first half.
Goodwin hit a 3, Stanley added a layup and McCoy a pair of free throws before Desiree Nelson hit the key shot of UNT’s first-half comeback. Nelson caught the ball on the wing and hit a 3 while being knocked to the floor by Veal.
Nelson hit the ensuing free throw to tie the game at 29. Hyder put UNT up 31-30 with a layup, and McCoy hit a deep 3 that helped UNT take a 34-32 lead.
UNT had plenty of chances to make more key plays when the game was on the line, only to see them slip away.
“Credit them,” Petersen said. “They made shots. The more shots they made, the harder they went, and the harder they went the more shots they made. That is usually what happens.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
Louisiana-Lafayette 80, North Texas 74 (2OT)
LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE (10-20) — Wilridge 3-7 2-6 8, Benjamin 2-6 9-10 13, Mills 3-6 6-8 12, Veal -19 7-14 17, Okde 5-16 1-2 16, Schambough 4-7 0-0 12, Brown 0-3 2-2 2. Totals 21-64 27-42 80.
NORTH TEXAS (11-19) — McCoy 3-12 4-5 13, Dawkins 1-1 2-3 4, Stanley 2-8 6-8 10, Hyder 10-21 5-7 25, Goodwin 5-17 3-5 14, Christian 0-1 0-0 0, Evans 0-1 0-0 0, Blakely 0-1 0-0 0, Nelson 3-8 1-1 8. Totals 24-70 21-29 74.
Halftime — UNT 34-32. Regulation — 58-58. OT — 66-66. 3-point goals — ULL 11-29 (Veal 2-6, Okde 5-16, Schambough 4-7), UNT 5-25 (McCoy 3-8, Hyder 0-2, Goodwin 1-11, Nelson 1-4). Fouled out — McCoy, Dawkins, Hyder. Rebounds — ULL 43 (Mills 11), UNT 56 (Hyder 12). Assists — ULL 14 (Wilridge 5), UNT 12 (Hyder, Goodwin, Nelson 3). Total fouls — ULL 21, UNT 30.