The North Texas men had suffered a couple of bitter losses and dipped under the .500 mark by the time it was preparing for its finale in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic on Saturday night.
That two-game skid prompted a sit-down meeting, one the Mean Green’s players credited with helping them find their way out of a funk in a game against Portland.
T.J. Taylor and Maurice Aniefiok both hit a pair of 3-pointers over the course of two overtime periods before UNT hung on for a 77-72 win, one that gives the Mean Green a little momentum heading into a game against Incarnate Word tonight at the Super Pit.
The Mean Green will take on the Cardinals in the second half of a doubleheader with the UNT women, who will face Grand Canyon in the opening game at 5 p.m.
“We got better,” Aniefiok said of the Mean Green’s trip to Portland, where UNT played three games in three days. “At the end of the tournament, we had a meeting and said that we didn’t want to go home without a win.”
Taylor and Aniefiok made sure that would be the case.
UNT trailed by as many as 14 points before clawing its way back into the game. Taylor scored 21 points to lead the Mean Green, just one game after he finished with 24 in a loss to Idaho. UNT lost its first game in Portland to Columbia.
Aniefiok also played a key role in the win over Portland, hitting three 3s on his way to 11 points.
“Those two guys sat out last year and are trying to find our rhythm,” UNT head coach Tony Benford said. “They are both big-time 3-point shooters who played at the high major level. We have some guys who are not afraid of the moment and can make plays.”
Taylor said the games UNT played in Portland helped him find his form and continue to work his way back from a series of nagging injuries that have hampered him this season.
The Mean Green will look to the duo to lead the way again against an Incarnate Word team that is a perfect 5-0 on the year after a tough trip back to Denton. Inclement weather forced UNT to alter its travel arrangements by having to fly to Houston and driving back to campus.
UNT planned on having just a short shootaround on Monday in preparation for today’s game.
The Mean Green women had a much easier set of circumstances to deal with after playing host to the Hospitality Hill Challenge over the weekend. UNT hammered Abilene Christian 64-50 and Bethune-Cookman 82-49.
Grand Canyon is 5-0 on the year and could provide a bigger challenge for the Mean Green, which enters today’s game with six players averaging at least six points a game.
Junior forward Briesha Wynn leads UNT with an average of 11.8 points a game.
“Grand Caynon is very good,” UNT women’s coach Mike Petersen said. “I like their team. That will be a challenge for us.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.