MIAMI — Chris Jones made sure Alzee Williams’ milestone night in North Texas history ended with a win.
Jones drove straight down the lane with time running out in a tie game on Thursday at FIU Arena and lofted a runner that bounced off the rim before dropping through at the buzzer to give UNT a 65-63 win on a night Williams became just the 20th player in program history to score 1,000 career points.
The win gave UNT back-to-back victories for the first time since knocking off Texas A&M and Cal-Riverside on Dec. 31 and Jan. 4 — its final two games before its Conference USA opener.
“This is a huge win,” UNT coach Tony Benford said. “We played really well defensively in our zone, got stops and executed.”
No play was bigger for UNT than the last one.
UNT (13-13, 4-8) struggled down the stretch and blew a 10-point lead in the final 2:17. UNT had a chance to redeem itself when Benford called a timeout with 14.3 seconds left with the score tied at 63-63.
Benford called for UNT to run Face Five, a play that gave Jones a chance to drive the lane off a screen from forward Colin Voss, a 6-7, 240-pound road block, who set up at the top of the key.
“We always work on late-game situations,” Jones said. “I got a good screen from Colin. I got pretty far into the lane. I went to my right and they cut me off. I was able to go behind my back and get a good shot off.”
That shot helped UNT overcome some tough times down the stretch after taking a 60-50 lead over FIU (13-14, 5-7) with 2:17 left.
UNT missed the front end of three one-and-one opportunities and hit just one of five free throws in the final 1:06.
“We work on late-game situations all the time,” Benford said. “We work on four-minute games, two-minute games, game with one minute left and late-game situations. We work on free throws every day.”
UNT made just enough plays late to survive on a night when four of its players finished in double figures. Jordan Williams led UNT with 16 points. Alzee Williams added 14, while Jones and Voss finished with 10 each.
That was just enough to help UNT overcome a huge night from Tymell Murphy, who tallied a game-high 31. Rakeem Buckles added 13 points and 13 rebounds.
Jones’ game-winner overshadowed a big night for Alzee Williams, who came into the night needing just five points to become the 20th player in UNT history to score 1,000 points.
The senior hit the mark when he coasted in for a layup he kissed off the glass off a feed from Jones.
The senior guard has certainly scored more dramatic baskets in his career, but will remember that layup because of its significance in terms of his personal legacy.
“It’s special for me and a great accomplishment,” Williams said. “I have thought about it, but wasn’t focused on it. I’m glad it came. My teammates kept telling me how many more points I needed. It was a great feeling to get there.”
For much of the night, it appeared as though UNT would coast to a win on Williams’ big night.
UNT led 34-28 at halftime after going on a 16-4 run in the early going.
The Mean Green trailed 22-18 before Voss hit a layup and Armani Flannigan slammed home a dunk off a rebound to spark the run.
Alzee Williams scored his 1,000th career point during the surge that Vertrail Vaughns capped with back-to-back three-point plays that gave UNT a 34-26 lead.
UNT continued to build on its lead in the second half and had a 56-43 edge before struggling down the stretch.
Vaughns missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity with 1:06 left before Jones missed the front end of another two one-and-one chances with 49 and 43 seconds remaining.
FIU capitalized on the other end.
Chris Boswell hit a free throw with 30 seconds left to pull FIU within 63-60 before missing the second. Buckles grabbed the rebound for FIU. The Golden Panthers got the ball to Murphy, who hit a layup, drew a foul from Voss and hit the free throw to convert the three-point play and tie the game.
“It was tough,” Jones said. “When the game is on the line, you need to hit free throws. We shouldn’t have been in that situation.”
Fortunately for UNT, Jones was able to bail out the Mean Green and make sure that Alzee Williams’ milestone night ended with a win that saw him push his career scoring total to 1,009 points ended with a win.
“Al has been great ever since we have gotten here,” said Benford, who is in his second year at UNT. “He is the type of player we want. He is selfless, tough and a good defender. He has had a great career. Any time you score 1,000 points, it’s big. He is a great player.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.
North Texas 65, Florida International 63
NORTH TEXAS (13-13, 4-8) — A. Williams 7-11 0-0 14, Flannigan 2-5 0-0 4, Jones 5-8 0-3 10, J. Williams 4-10 7-9 16, Voss 5-11 0-0 10, Vaughns 2-4 2-3 6, Aniefiok 0-0 0-0 0, Walton 0-2 0-0 0, Taylor 1-2 0-0 3, Gaines 0-0 0-0 0, Coleman 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 27-56 9-15 65.
FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (13-14, 5-7) — Frink 0-4 2-2 2, Mann 1-4 0-0 2, Buckles 7-19 0-0 15, Murphy 11-17 6-7 29, Mavin 1-6 4-6 7, Boswell 2-3 2-4 6, Porcher Jimenez 0-2 0-0 0, Naldjieff 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 23-58 14-19 63.
Halftime — UNT 34-28. Three-point goals — UNT 2-7 (J. Williams 1-4, Vaughns 0-1, Walton 0-1, Taylor 1-1), FIU 3-15 (Frink 0-1, Mann 0-1, Buckles 1-3, Murphy 1-5, Mavin 1-2, Boswell 0-1, Porcher Jimenez 0-2). Fouled out — none. Rebounds — UNT 37 (J. Williams 9), FIU 34 (Buckles 13). Assists — UNT 14 (Jones 7), FIU 11 (Boswell 7). Total fouls — UNT 15, FIU 17. A — 924.