Alexis Hyder sprinted across the floor, tipped a pass off a UTEP player and out of bounds before pumping her fist and letting out a scream.
UNT had the ball and a huge lead following that turnover at the Super Pit. From there it was only a matter of time before the Mean Green polished off a 73-64 upset of UTEP at what seemed like an unlikely time on Wednesday night at the Super Pit.
UNT found out just a few days ago it would be without starting forward Acheil Tac and starting point guard Candice Adams the rest of the season due to injuries.
The Mean Green (11-14, 5-7 Conference USA) found a way to compensate, and possibly a new weapon, while knocking off one of C-USA’s top teams.
The Miners (20-5, 9-3) came into the night just a half game out of first place in the conference standings and had won seven straight games.
“I have been really fortunate to be involved in some really special wins,” UNT coach Mike Petersen said. “I have coached teams that have beaten top 10 teams and was an assistant on a team that beat the No. 1 team in the nation once, but this is the happiest I have been for a team with all it has been through with close games and injuries.”
UNT had lost all eight of its games decided by six points or less coming into the night and lost four players for the season to injury — Tac, Adams, BreAnna Dawkins and Joh’Vonna Darrington.
That opened up an opportunity for redshirt freshman Eboniey Jeter, who responded with 19 points and 13 rebounds in the best game of her career.
Jeter came in averaging 3.2 points and 2.9 rebounds a game.
“It was hard, but cheering the team on kept me motivated,” Jeter said of playing sparingly. “The team is more important than myself. The opportunity came.”
Jeter capitalized and led an attack that featured four players who finished in double figures. Alexis Hyder scored 15 points, while both Briesha Wynn and Desiree Nelson added 14.
Kayla Thornton finished with a double-double that included 16 points and 13 rebounds for UTEP, which came into the night leading C-USA with an average of 79.5 points a game.
The Miners never approached that total against UNT, which forced 18 turnovers and frustrated UTEP with its zone defense. Thornton fell just short of her average of 19.7 points a game, but shot just 6-of-22 from the field.
“They are a very good offensive team,” Petersen said. “Our gang did a phenomenal job of making them uncomfortable.”
That was especially true during a huge 16-0 run in the first half that broke the game open.
Jeter started the run when she converted a three-point play with 7:55 left and the Mean Green down 22-18. UTEP didn’t score again until Kristine Vitola hit a pair of free throws with 3:09 left in the half.
By then UNT had opened 34-22 lead on back-to-back 3-pointers from Wynn and Hyder.
UNT’s starting forwards combined to go 3-for-5 from behind the arc in the first half when both teams packed the lane with a zone defense.
Hyder and Petersen credited the run largely to the spark that Jeter provided.
“Jeter went a really long time without playing,” Petersen said. “I told her that when she got her opportunity to take advantage of it. She went and did exactly that. She was phenomenal.”
UTEP worked its way back into the game and pulled to within 51-44 with 10:19 left in the second half on a Jenzel Nash jumper.
UNT answered with a pair of Nelson free throws and kept on answering every time UTEP made a run.
The Mean Green essentially put the game away when Wynn hit a layup off an assist from Hannah Christian after UTEP had pulled to within 68-64 with 1:35 left.
“We showed some poise late,” Hyder said. “We didn’t have any confused moments or get rattled.”
UNT got a big win as a result.
“I have a high regard UTEP,” Petersen said. “They are a great basketball team and at the end of the day our kids handled them. There wasn’t any luck involved there. We went out there, slapped the floor, got in a stance and played.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870.
North Texas 73, UTEP 64
UTEP (20-5, 9-3) — Thornton 6-22 3-4 16, Vitola 2-5 3-4 7,Willingham 1-5 0-0 3, Nash 3-8 3-4 11, Parker 2-2 1-1 5, Turner 2-5 2-2 7, Gari 1-2 0-0 2, Telles 0-4 0-0 0, Taylor 6-9 1-3 13, Kirsteine 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-63 13-18 64.
NORTH TEXAS (11-14, 5-7) — Wynn 6-19 1-3 14, Hyder 5-9 3-4 15, McCoy 1-6 0-0 3, Peterson 2-4 0-0 6, Nelson 4-7 6-9 14, Christian 1-7 0-3 2, Evans 0-0 0-0 0, Jeter 7-12 5-7 19, Hooker 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-64 15-26 73.
Halftime — UNT 39-28. 3-point goals — UTEP 5-26 (Thornton 1-7, Vitola 0-1, Willingham 1-5, Nash 2-5, Turner 1-2, Gari 0-1, Telles 0-4, Kirsteine 0-1), UNT 6-21 (Wynn 1-3, Hyder 2-3, McCoy 1-4, Peterson 2-3, Nelson 0-1, Christian 0-6, Jeter 0-1). Fouled out — none. Rebounds — UTEP 48 (Thornton 13), UNT 41 (Jeter 13). Assists — UTEP 11 (Nash 5), UNT 10 (Christian 6). Total fouls — UTEP 19, UNT 19. A — 349.