North Texas coach Tony Benford maintained throughout some tough times for the Mean Green this season that sooner or later the tide would turn.
Eventually, it did.
UNT plowed through a few rough spots in its early Conference USA schedule before capitalizing when times got a lot easier over the last few weeks, winning four straight games.
The Mean Green will put that streak on the line at 2 p.m. today when it takes on UTEP in the first game of a challenging season-ending homestand that will conclude Thursday against Tulsa.
UNT’s four-game streak has come against teams with a combined conference record of 19-37. UTEP and Tulsa head into the weekend with a combined record of 21-7 in league play.
“We need to build on this and are excited to be on this streak,” Benford said after the Mean Green’s win over Texas-San Antonio on Thursday.
The streak has lifted UNT (15-13, 6-8 C-USA) into ninth place in the conference. The trick will be staying there.
The teams that finish in the top four spots in the standings will receive a double bye in the conference tournament, while the teams that finish fifth through ninth will receive a first-round bye.
East Carolina, Florida Atlantic and Charlotte are all just a game behind UNT. None of the six teams UNT has beaten in conference games entered the weekend with a winning record in league play.
UTEP (20-9, 10-4) is just a game out of a four-way tie for first place that includes Tulsa.
If UNT is to continue its late-season surge, it will have to find a way to contain one of C-USA’s more efficient offensive teams. The Miners led the league in field-goal shooting at 46.8 percent heading into Saturday’s games.
The Miners have three players averaging in double figures in scoring, led by junior forward Julian Washburn, who is posting 13.0 points per game. Freshman forward Vince Hunter and senior center John Bohannon are adding 12.9 and 12.0 points, respectively.
UTEP has lost its last two games and enters its game against UNT looking to rebound and secure a double bye in the tournament.
The Mean Green will turn to the combination of Jordan Williams and Alzee Williams in an effort to keep its run going. Jordan Williams leads UNT with an average of 12.5 points and has been even better in C-USA play, where he has posted 14.3 points per game.
Jordan Williams became just the 20th player in UNT history to score 1,000 career points in the Mean Green’s win over UTSA.
Alzee Williams reached the milestone during a win over Florida International two games before.
“It feels amazing to get 1,000 points because I didn’t play the second half of my freshman year,” Jordan Williams said. “To get there in 2 1/2 years is pretty good.”
What would feel even better for UNT is finding a way to keep its late-season run going, earning a bye in the conference tournament and bolstering its chances to make an extended stay in its first C-USA tournament.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.