MIAMI — North Texas has encountered its share of bumps and bruises during the course of the basketball season.
The UNT men lost five straight at one point, while the UNT women suffered a string of narrow losses when nothing seemed to go right down the stretch in close games.
The school’s hope heading into today’s games is that the tide might finally be turning for the Mean Green.
The UNT men (13-13, 4-8 Conference USA) escaped with a victory over Florida International on Thursday when Chris Jones hit a game-winning runner at the buzzer, while the UNT women (11-14, 5-7) stunned UTEP on Wednesday.
Both teams will try to build on those performances today. The UNT women will travel to Tulsa for a 2 p.m. game, while the UNT men will complete their two-game Florida swing with a 6 p.m. game at Florida Atlantic.
“This is a very big opportunity,” UNT men’s guard Jordan Williams said. “If we can win this game, we can go back home and continue building momentum going into the conference tournament. That is very important.”
UNT has won back-to-back games for the first time since beating Texas A&M and California-Riverside on New Year’s Eve and Jan. 4, respectively, and is in a tie for 12th place in C-USA. There are four teams in the 16-team league sitting at 5-7.
The top four teams in the conference standings will receive a double bye in the conference tournament, while the teams that finish fifth through ninth will receive a first-round bye.
“It will be a great opportunity,” UNT coach Tony Benford said. “If we can win this game, we will have a chance to get a bye.”
FAU (10-17) is at 5-7 with UAB, Charlotte and FIU. UAB and Charlotte face off today.
UNT says improving its performance in late-game situations is one of the keys to continuing its late run. UNT blew a 10-point lead with 2:17 left against FIU, which tied the game on Tymell Murphy’s three-point play in the closing seconds.
UNT missed the front end of three one-and-one opportunities in the final 1:06.
“We are playing pretty well defensively,” Benford said. “We are executing offensively. What we have to work on is our late-game execution and finishing people off. We have to make free throws. Close games come down to free throws, and we didn’t make ours [Thursday] night.”
FAU comes in on a two-game losing streak, including a 71-52 blowout loss at home to Tulsa on Thursday.
Senior guard Pablo Bertone leads FAU with an average of 18.3 points per game. Williams is averaging 12.2 points, while fellow guard Alzee Williams is adding 11.6 points an outing.
UNT likely will have to wait until game time to find out about the availability of guard Maruice Aniefiok. The sophomore, who is averaging 6.6 points, is battling an ankle injury that limited him to three minutes in UNT’s win over FIU.
The UNT women also are looking to continue a late charge up the C-USA standings following their 73-64 win over UTEP. The Miners had won seven straight before redshirt freshman Eboniey Jeter came off the bench to post a double-double with 19 points and 13 rebounds after being forced into a larger role because of a string of injuries to key UNT players.
UNT will be without forward Acheil Tac the rest of the season because of a knee injury.
The Mean Green rallied around Jeter and heads into today’s game in a three-way tie for eighth place after a win that coach Mike Petersen called one of the most special of his career, due to the circumstances.
UNT will lean on forwards Briesha Wynn and Alexis Hyder, who are averaging 11.1 and 10.9 points per game, respectively, as it looks to win for the third time in four games.
Tulsa has gone into a tailspin, losing its last six, including an overtime setback to Louisiana Tech on Wednesday.
Senior guard Ashley Clark leads the Golden Hurricane with an average of 14.8 points per game.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.