North Texas knows that if it is going to become a factor in the Conference USA title chase, it’s going to have to do a sizeable chunk of work at home.
The Mean Green took its first step toward that goal Thursday night in one of its most impressive wins of the season.
The Mean Green used a late burst and pulled away from UAB for a 76-65 win at the Super Pit, its first victory at home in three tries in C-USA play. The fact that the win came against a UAB team that has a laundry list of impressive wins this season — over teams like North Carolina and Rutgers — made the milestone victory all the more impressive.
“That is a great win for us,” UNT coach Tony Benford said. “To get back into this race after giving a couple away, we have to take care of home.”
UNT (11-8, 2-3 C-USA) wasn’t quite in desperation mode heading into a homestand that will continue with a game against Middle Tennessee on Saturday, but there was little doubt the Mean Green felt like it needed to get on track after blowing a late lead in a loss to Charlotte last week.
The Mean Green was up seven over the Blazers after Jordan Williams scored on a layup to put UNT up 59-52 with 8:50 remaining.
Essentially, UNT was right back where it was just a few days before when it blew a seven-point lead with 4:30 left in a 76-74 loss to the 49ers.
UAB (12-6, 1-3) made a run, just like Charlotte did, and pulled to within 61-58 on a Robert Williams 3-pointer.
This time, UNT responded with a 7-0 surge and cruised to the win.
The key shot came when T.J. Taylor hit a 3 to put UNT up 66-58.
“I was in rhythm and took it,” Taylor said. “From the roar of the student section, I could tell it was big. They [the Blazers] seemed rattled after that.”
UNT never appeared rattled, which might have been the best aspect of the way the Mean Green closed out the game.
“We handled it a lot better than at Charlotte,” Taylor said. “We kept our poise. That is what we talked about and came out and did it.”
Taylor made the first start of his UNT career against UAB and finished with 13 points. The junior was one of four UNT players who finished in double figures. Alzee Williams came off the bench to score a team-high 18 points, Jordan Williams added 16 and Colin Voss 13.
Chad Frazier scored a game-high 20 points to lead UAB, which entered the game ranked fourth nationally with an average rebounding margin of plus-11.0.
UAB dominated the glass, finishing with a 53-39 edge, but struggled to take advantage of those extra opportunities, especially in the second half. The Blazers shot just 18.4 percent (7-for-38) from the field in the second half.
While UAB dominated the glass overall, UNT felt like it held its own in key stretches.
“Coach stressed that they are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country,” UNT’s Alzee Williams said. “It was big to box out and hold our own down there. That’s what we did.”
UNT appeared as if it might run away from UAB while rolling off a 16-2 run midway through the first half. Voss capped the run with a jumper that gave the Mean Green a 24-12 lead.
“When we have a big run like that, we calm down and play from ahead,” Alzee Williams said. “We can play poised and run through our offense and get a good shot.”
UAB struggled early on to solve UNT’s zone defense and went 5:25 with its only points coming on a pair of free throws from Tosin Mehinti while UNT went on its run.
Robert Williams broke UAB’s slump with a 3, sparking an 18-6 Blazer surge. UAB took a 38-36 lead on a Denzell Watts 3 with 2:05 left in the half, but didn’t score the rest of the half while UNT closed on an 8-0 run highlighted by 3s from Maurice Aniefiok and Jordan Williams and led 44-38 at halftime.
UNT shot the ball exceptionally well from beyond the 3-point arc throughout the game and finished 8-for-16, despite playing without backup guard Brandan Walton. The senior, who ranks second on the team with 17 3-pointers on the year, sat out with a concussion but is expected to be back for the Mean Green’s game against Middle Tennessee on Saturday.
UNT will head into that game with momentum on its side after taking what it felt was a key step toward getting back into the hunt in C-USA.
“This is an important win,” Benford said. “It’s a confidence builder.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.
North Texas 76, UAB 65
UAB (12-6, 1-3) – Washington 0-5 1-2 1, Rucker 2-16 3-6 7, Alihodzic 5-10 2-6 12, Frazier 7-21 3-5 20, Swing 0-2 0-0 0, Watts 2-6 0-1 5, Williams 4-9 4-6 14, Mehinti 2-3 2-2 6, Purifoy 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-72 15-28 65.
NORTH TEXAS (11-8, 2-3) – Gaines 0-1 0-0 0, Voss 4-7 2-5 10, Jones 1-5 1-2 3, Taylor 5-10 0-1 13, J. Williams 5-12 4-4 16, Coleman 0-0 0-0 0, Vaughns 2-3 0-0 5, Aniefiok 2-6 0-0 6, A. Williams 8-12 2-2 18, Flannigan 2-3 1-2 5. Totals 29-59 10-16 76.
Halftime – UNT 44-38. 3-point goals -- 6-23 (Washington 0-3, Rucker 0-1, Frazier 3-10, Swing 0-2, Watts 1-2, Williams 2-5), UNT 8-16 (Taylor 3-5, J. Williams 2-4, Vaughns 1-2, Aniefiok 2-4, A. Williams 0-1). Fouled out – none. Rebounds – UAB 53 (Rucker 11), UNT 39 (Jones 6). Assists – UAB 10 (Rucker 3), UNT 15 (Jones 7). Total fouls – UAB 17, UNT 17. A – 3,659.