TULSA, Okla. — North Texas has spent weeks perfecting a zone defense that had become something of a weapon for the Mean Green late in its second season under Tony Benford.
What at times was a confusing maze of arms and legs for UNT’s opponents over the last few weeks didn’t pose much of a problem for Tulsa on Saturday at the Reynolds Center.
The Golden Hurricane dismantled the Mean Green defense from the start, working the ball into open space for uncontested jumpers and into the lane for easy shots. On the rare occasion when Tulsa missed, one of its front-line players often was there to grab the ball and drop it in.
The result for UNT was an ugly 94-63 loss — by far the most lopsided setback in a Conference USA game in the Mean Green’s first season in the league.
Tulsa (10-11, 5-2 C-USA) made 36 of the 63 shots it took from the field, a scorching 57.1 percent and the highest percentage an opponent has shot against UNT all year.
And that might not have been the worst aspect of the game for UNT, which was outrebounded 43-26 while giving up 20 second-chance points, again a season-high for a Mean Green opponent.
“I was disappointed with our effort,” Benford said. “We didn’t compete overall. I am disappointed in our big guys. I don’t think any of them competed.”
Jordan Williams led UNT (11-10, 2-5) with a game-high 21 points, and Brandan Walton came off the bench to tie his career high with five 3-pointers that accounted for all 15 of his points.
Chris Jones added 11 points to go with six assists that moved him past Dominique Johnson and into 10th place in UNT history with 236 for his career.
UNT just didn’t have enough firepower to keep up with Tulsa, especially without Maurice Aniefiok, who is suffering from tendinitis in his knees but is expected back for a game at Rice on Thursday. The sophomore guard is averaging 7.1 points per game.
D’Andre Wright and James Woodard each scored 18 points and Rashad Smith added 17 for Tulsa, which posted its largest margin of victory in a conference game since beating Rice by 31 on Feb. 20, 2008.
The outcome was particularly disheartening for UNT, which entered the day feeling like it was ready to break out. The Mean Green beat UAB last week, when it led by 13 points early, before falling to Middle Tennessee, one of C-USA’s better teams.
“This was tough,” Williams said. “We just lost to Middle Tennessee in a big game. We thought we could get going tonight and build momentum heading into the conference tournament. We have been playing hard our last couple of games.”
What UNT hoped would be the beginning of an upward trend now looks like a slump following the Mean Green’s loss to Tulsa. UNT has lost three of its last four to fall further in the C-USA standings.
Tulsa broke the game open with a 12-4 run that gave the Golden Hurricane a 20-12 lead. Lew Evans capped the run when he caught a pass from Tim Peete while trailing on the break and hit a 3 from the top of the key, forcing Benford to call a timeout.
That time to regroup for UNT didn’t do anything to stem the tide. Tulsa shot 55.6 percent (20-for-36) in the first half and took its largest lead of the half at 45-27 on a Shaquille Harrison jumper.
UNT trailed 47-31 at halftime, despite a big start form Williams, who scored the Mean Green’s first eight points and had 14 at the break.
“My teammates were finding me,” Williams said. “I took it upon myself to hit them when I got open shots.”
UNT turned to Williams and Walton to shoot the Mean Green back into the game after Tulsa took its biggest lead at 72-40 on a Harrison 3 with 12:03 left.
Walton scored nine straight points for UNT on 3s and Williams added another that pulled the Mean Green to within 76-56 with 7:51 left.
“When I get an open shot, I will take it,” Walton said. “I felt like the offense fed off me.”
Any glimmer of hope UNT had was quickly extinguished when the Mean Green couldn’t slow Tulsa down on the other end of the floor.
Woodard knocked down an open 3 less than a minute after UNT pulled within 20, and Tulsa cruised the rest of the way while dismantling the Mean Green on the defensive end.
UNT entered the day having held its last 10 opponents to 66.8 points per game on 40 percent shooting from the field while playing mostly in its zone defense.
Tulsa looked a lot more comfortable against UNT’s zone than its last few opponents and took advantage of its opportunities — especially its second-chance shots.
“The zone has been working for us, but it is tough to rebound in a zone,” Walton said. “I don’t know if we were missing box-outs or what, but we will look at it. When a team sticks it back like that, it’s like the air comes out of your body — like someone is stomping on your heart. They kept shoving it down our throat by getting extra possessions.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.
Tulsa 94, North Texas 63
NORTH TEXAS (11-10, 2-5) – Voss 2-8 0-0 4, Coleman 1-2 0-1 2, Vaughns 1-4 3-5 5, Jones 4-6 3-5 11, J. Williams 8-16 2-2 21, Walton 5-8 0-0 15, A. Williams 0-7 1-2 1, Flannigan 0-1 0-0 0, Taylor 2-8 0-0 4, Gaines 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-60 9-15 63.
TULSA (10-11, 5-2) – Evans 3-5 0-0 8, Wright 6-9 6-7 18, Peete 2-5 2-2 7, Woodard 7-11 3-3 18, Harrison 4-5 0-0 9, Hunter 0-0 0-0 0, Smith 7-10 2-2 17, Ray 2-7 0-2 4, Edogi 0-0 0-0 0, Repichowski 2-4 3-3 7, Swannegan 3-7 0-0 6. Totals 36-63 16-19 94.
Halftime – Tulsa 47-31. 3-point goals – UNT 8-20 (Vaughns 0-1, Jones 0-1, J. Williams 3-7, Walton 5-8, Taylor 0-3), Tulsa 6-15 (Evans 2-3, Wright 0-1, Peete 1-2, Woodard 1-3, Harrison 1-2, Smith 1-1, Tay 0-1, Repichowski 0-2). Fouled out – Swannegan. Rebounds – UNT 26 (J. Williams 7), Tulsa 43 (Woodard 8). Assists – UNT 12 (Jones 6), Tulsa 15 (Ray 4). Total fouls – UNT 18, Tulsa 14. A – 4,425.