Opportunities for wins in league play have been few and far between for North Texas in its first season in Conference USA.
The Mean Green had one Thursday night at the Super Pit against Old Dominion, only to fumble it away and officially hit rock bottom in the C-USA standings.
UNT was in position to pull out of its late-season tailspin but let a late one-point lead slip away in an avalanche of mistakes that saddled UNT with a 72-62 loss.
The Mean Green’s fifth straight setback left UNT (11-13) sitting at 2-8 in C-USA play and in a four-way tie for last with Rice, Marshall and East Carolina. The Mean Green will face ECU at home Saturday.
“We are disappointed, embarrassed, whatever you want to call it, but no one is going to feel sorry for us,” UNT coach Tony Benford said. “The only way for us to get out of the cellar is to get to work tomorrow.”
UNT no doubt will lament the mistakes it made late against ODU (12-13, 6-4 C-USA) when it looks back on what went wrong against the Monarchs.
Alzee Williams hit a pair of free throws with 3:39 left that gave UNT a 58-57 lead.
It was all downhill from there for the Mean Green, which committed three key turnovers during a 9-0 ODU run.
Dimitri Batten hit the key shot during the run, a 3-pointer that gave the Monarchs a 64-58 lead and sucked the life out of UNT.
“We have to execute better down the stretch,” UNT guard Chris Jones said. “They did a good job of stalling the clock and getting the shot they wanted.”
ODU worked the ball for several open 3s on the night and finished 11-for-19 from beyond the arc.
Reserve freshman Mosley Ambrose entered the game averaging just 5.1 points per game but went off for 21 against UNT while hitting five of his seven 3-point attempts. Aaron Bacote added 20 points for ODU.
Williams and Jones each had 13 points for UNT. Vertrail Vaughns added 12 points and Maurice Aniefiok 10.
Aniefiok hit a pair of free throws that put UNT up 50-45 late in the second half. The Mean Green struggled to get anything going offensively from that point on, but got a key 3 from Aniefiok with 5:23 left to pull to within 56-54.
That was the last field goal UNT made.
The Mean Green compensated for a while, hitting four straight free throws to stay in the game, including the two Williams hit that gave UNT its last lead.
UNT turned the ball over three times in the next 1:15. Aniefiok threw the ball away, Colin Voss was called for an illegal screen, then had the ball slip out of his hands when he tried to make a move to the basket.
Those turnovers helped fuel ODU’s late run.
“We had a five-point lead, and bang, bang, bang, we gave up those 3s,” Benford said. “When we came down we didn’t execute well. We had a couple of turnovers that really hurt us. It’s a possession game a lot of times in conference games. We had it right there, but we didn’t get stops and execute offensively. That’s the game.”
Those mistakes spoiled what was a decidedly better defensive effort from the Mean Green.
UNT had given up at least 90 points in two of its last three games, but it held the Monarchs in check. The Mean Green came out of a 2-3 zone that had become its main defense during the last half of the season and forced 14 turnovers.
“We did a better job of talking on defense, which makes you a lot more aware of your surroundings,” Jones said.
UNT’s improved defense helped the Mean Green go on a 9-2 run late in the first half that gave it a 29-25 lead. UNT was unable to sustain the momentum and saw ODU go on a 10-0 run fueled by Bacote, who hit a 3 and capped the surge with a layup that gave the Monarchs a 35-29 edge.
UNT closed to within 35-32 at halftime on a Jones free throw and was in position in the second half to snap a losing streak that ranks as the longest in C-USA.
The Mean Green couldn’t convert and matched the longest skid of Benford’s two seasons at UNT, with time for a turnaround quickly running out.
“We all talked about it as a team,” Aniefiok said. “We needed to get this one just to get back to winning. We felt like this was an opportunity we let slip.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.
Old Dominion 72, North Texas 62
OLD DOMINION (12-13, 6-4) – Taylor 0-2 0-0 0, Ross 4-10 0-2 8, Bacote 5-10 6-8 20, Palmore 4-6 3-6 11, Batten 3-9 3-4 11, Baker 0-1 0-0 0, Ebondo 0-2 1-2 1, Mosley 5-7 6-6 21. Totals 21-47 19-28 72.
NORTH TEXAS (11-13, 2-8) – Voss 2-7 1-3 5, Coleman 0-1 0-0 0, A. Williams 3-8 7-9 13, Jones 5-9 3-4 13, J. Williams 2-4 0-0 5, Vaughns 1-4 9-10 12, Aniefiok 2-9 4-4 10, Walton 0-2 0-0 0, Flannigan 0-2 0-0 0, Taylor 1-4 2-2 4, Gaines 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-50 26-32 62.
Halftime – ODU 35-32. 3-point goals – ODU 11-19 (Bacote 4-5, Batten 2-6, Baker 0-1, Mosley 5-7), UNT 4-12 (J. Williams 1-1, Vaughns 1-2, Aniefiok 2-6, Walton 0-1, Taylor 0-2). Fouled out – none. Rebounds – ODU 35 (Taylor, Palmore 7), UNT 32 (Voss 10). Assists – ODU 9 (Palmore 5), UNT 5 (A. Williams 4). Total fouls – ODU 23, UNT 24. A – 2,335.