Men's basketball: Cold-shooting Mean Green falls to UTEP

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Jordan Williams and Alzee Williams walked to center court before North Texas’ game against UTEP on Sunday at the Super Pit to accept commemorative balls for scoring 1,000 points in their careers with the Mean Green.

Both hit that milestone during a four-game winning streak that had UNT riding high.

That ceremony turned out to be the last feel-good moment of the Mean Green’s late season-run that came to a screeching halt in a 74-54 blowout loss to the Miners.

The Mean Green suffered through its worst shooting performance in five years and one of its worst offensive outings of the season. The setback drained the momentum UNT built during its feel-good run that included three two-point wins and a victory over rival Texas-San Antonio.

“I would rather lose a close game than be blown out,” Jordan Williams said. “We were playing hard the last four games and were on a streak. It’s frustrating to lose like that.”

Nothing seemed to go right for UNT.

The Mean Green shot just 25.8 percent from the field, finished with a 46-33 rebounding deficit and tied a season-low with two assists.

Alzee Williams led UNT with 15 points. Jordan Williams posted a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds, while Maurice Aniefiok added 10 points.

UNT (15-14, 6-9 Conference USA) didn’t have nearly enough firepower to keep up with UTEP. Matt Willms led the Miners with 14 points. C.J. Cooper added 13 and Vince Hunter 11.

The four opponents UNT beat during its streak came into the day with a combined conference record of 19-37.

UTEP (21-9, 11-4) was much better and had a lot on the line. The Miners were only a game out of first place in the C-USA standings and hungry for a win after two straight losses.

“I don’t think the competition got tougher,” UNT coach Tony Benford said. “We didn’t play as well as we needed to. If we had finished plays and gotten stops, we would have been where we needed to be. We just didn’t do what we needed to.”

That was especially true in the paint.

UTEP started three front-line players who were at least 6-foot-8. Willms is listed at 7-1, while Hunter is 6-8 and John Bohannon 6-11.

That trio gave UNT fits, combining for 32 points and 23 rebounds.

UNT’s starting forwards Colin Voss and Armani Flannigan managed just four points and two rebounds, all from Voss. Keith Coleman and Kelvin Gaines combined for one point and two rebounds off the bench.

The four played a total of 54 minutes.

“The length really bothered us,” Benford said. “We struggled to get anything inside. They out-toughed us a little bit. I was disappointed in our big guys. We got four rebounds out of those guys. You can’t be competitive at any level with only four rebounds from your inside guys.”

Those interior players are a big reason UTEP came into the day ranked third in C-USA in scoring defense in league play with an average of 62.6 points allowed a game.

The Miners clamped down on UNT and blew the game open with a 14-0 run early in the first half. The Mean Green went 5:24 without scoring.

“We needed to finish more at the rim,” Alzee Williams said. “We had some good looks. We have to finish the play.”

UNT answered with a 9-0 run and got as close as six before UTEP answered with another 14-2 run and took a 36-21 lead at halftime.

The Mean Green struggled to get anything going offensively in the early going and shot just 21.9 percent (7-for-32) from the field in the first half, when UNT missed all seven of its 3-point attempts.

The 23 points UNT scored in the first half was its second lowest total of the season, just three points better than the 20 points it scored in the first half of a win over Portland on Nov. 23.

The Mean Green took 66 shots, but 17 of them were from beyond the 3-point arc and those that weren’t were usually contested. That was especially true in the paint, where the Miners outscored UNT 28-16.

“It felt like I was down in there in the trees,” Jordan Williams said. “I couldn’t get a good look at the basket. It was tough down there.”

The Mean Green never found a way to convert in the paint — or anywhere else — consistently and saw its winning streak come to an end as a result.

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

 

UTEP 74, North Texas 54

UTEP (21-9, 11-4) — Hunter 3-5 5-6 11, Bohannon 2-5 4-6 8, Willms 4-7 6-8 14, Washburn 4-11, 1-2 9, Cooper 5-8 0-0 13, Aaron Jones 0-1 0-0 0, Flaggert 3-4 1-2 9, Caldwell 1-2 0-0 2, Vint 2-4 0-0 4, Alvin Jones 0-0 0-0 0, Lang 1-1 2-3 4, Vandivort 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-48 19-27 74.

NORTH TEXAS (15-14, 6-9) — Flannigan 0-2 0-2 0, Voss 2-5 0-0 4, A. Williams 5-8 5-8 15, Jones 2-6 0-0 4, J. Williams 2-14 9-10 13, Vaughns 0-7 2-2 2, Aniefiok 4-12 0-0 10, Walton 0-2 0-0 0, Taylor 2-5 1-3 5, Gaines 0-1 0-0 0, Coleman 0-4 1-2 1. Totals 17-66 18-27 54.

Halftime — UTEP 36-21. 3-point goals — UTEP 5-12 (Bohannon 0-1, Washburn 0-3, Cooper 3-5 Flaggert 2-2, Vint 0-1), UNT 2-17 (J. Williams 0-4, Vaughns 0-1, Aniefiok 2-8, Walton 0-1, Taylor 0-3). Fouled out — Walton. Rebounds — UTEP 46 (Hunter, Willms, Washburn 8), UNT 33 (J. Williams 11). Assists — UTEP 8 (Washburn 4), UNT 2 (Jones 2). Total fouls — UTEP 16, UNT 21. Technical fouls — Bohannon, Walton. A —1,274.


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