There were plenty of times over the last few weeks when North Texas was in a position remarkably similar to where it was in the closing minutes of its game against Arkansas State on Wednesday night.
The game was tight and would be determined by which team made a few key plays late.
The Mean Green didn’t make those plays in a loss at South Alabama over the weekend or in home losses to Florida International and Arkansas-Little Rock in the last few weeks.
UNT made the key plays late in its game against ASU, which made all the difference in a 53-51 win in the Mean Green’s regular-season finale at the Super Pit.
Alexis Hyder tied a UNT freshman record with her ninth double-double of the season, and the Mean Green (11-18, 10-10 Sun Belt) made just enough key defensive stands in the closing minutes to knock off ASU (15-13, 12-7) and end a five-game home losing streak.
“I am very, very happy with our toughness tonight,” UNT head coach Mike Petersen said. “During the last two weeks or so, our prolonged toughness was not what it needed to be. We talked about it a lot, but at some point you have to go out there and do something about it.”
UNT did and emerged from a late-season funk that had seen the Mean Green lose five of its last six games, including its last three.
The end of that slide couldn’t have come at a better time for UNT, which will now wait to see what happens over the weekend, when the final games of the Sun Belt season will be played.
In an odd scheduling quirk, UNT has a bye in the last round of conference play, giving the Mean Green some extra time to get ready for the Sun Belt tournament that will begin March 8.
Thanks largely to Hyder, the Mean Green will have a little momentum on their side heading into that break. Hyder came up with arguably the best game of her freshman season, scoring 20 points to go along with a season-high 18 rebounds.
Senior Sara Stanley added nine points and seven rebounds on a night she was honored as UNT’s lone senior. Hanna Qedan led ASU with 17 points.
“I was trying to help our team end the losing at home,” Hyder said. “It got out of hand. We needed this win to feel good about ourselves going into the tournament.”
Hyder ensured UNT would get the win by scoring nine of the Mean Green’s last 10 points.
UNT trailed 45-43 after Carlisha Wyatt hit a layup. Hyder answered with back-to-back layups, the last of which gave the Mean Green a 47-45 edge.
Laura McCoy added a free throw before Qedan hit a 3 to tie the game at 48-48.
Hyder responded with a three-point play and a jumper to put UNT up 53-48.
“[Finishing with] 18 rebounds? Holly smackers, that’s a big number,” Petersen said. “She was very good and played with a lot of energy.”
Ashley Olvera kept ASU in the game with a 3 to pull the Red Wolves within 53-51. ASU had two chances to tie the game up or take the lead in the final 12.9 seconds.
UNT had a foul to give and fouled Olvera with 8.3 seconds left before she could get a shot off coming out of timeout. Petersen said he knew UNT had a foul to give, but credited injured guard Hannah Christian for quickly pointing it out.
ASU had the ball with 8.3 seconds left, but didn’t get a shot off when McCoy came up with a steal.
UNT had 10 steals on the night, which turned out to be critical in a game that was close after the Mean Green got off to a solid start.
UNT ran out to a 15-7 lead in the first half before falling into a funk offensively.
Desiree Nelson hit a jumper to put UNT up eight with 11:00 left in the first half. The Mean Green didn’t score for the next 4:46 while ASU went on a 10-0 run and took its first lead of the game at 17-15 on a McDowell three-point play.
ASU led by as many as five late in the first half, the last time at 25-20 on a Qedan 3.
UNT pulled to within 27-26 at halftime on a Hyder layup with five seconds left in the half.
ASU opened the second half on a 7-0 run and was up 34-26.
“They made the run at the start of the second half, and we didn’t cave,” Petersen said. “We took a timeout, talked about it and went right back out and got some stops.”
The way UNT responded allowed Mean Green to finish an even .500 in conference play, the first time since the 2005-06 season UNT has not finished with a losing record in league play. UNT also finished with at least 10 wins in Sun Belt play for the first time since the 2001-02 season.
“We passed some milestones today,” Petersen said. “To get to where you want to be, you have to pass some mileposts. They are not the ones we wanted to pass earlier in the year, but they are significant.”
What might be even more important was the feeling the win gave UNT heading at a key point in its season.
“This was a confidence boost and gave us momentum going into the tournament,” McCoy said. “We also wanted to send Sara out on a good note.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com .
NORTH TEXAS 53, ARKANSAS STATE 51
ARKANSAS STATE (15-13, 12-7) — O’Bannon 1-8 1-4 3, Morrill 5-11 1-3 11, Qedan 6-14 0-0 17, Olvera 2-4 0-0 6, McDowell 3-4 1-1 8, Jackson 0-0 0-0 0, Hunt 0-1 0-0 0, Carloette Wyatt 0-0 0-0 0, Watson 0-1 0-0 0, Carlisha Wyatt 3-6 0-0 6. Totals 20-49 3-8 51.
NORTH TEXAS (11-18, 10-10) — Stanley 4-10 0-0 9, Hyder 8-18 4-6 20, McCoy 2-8 1-2 7, Dawkins 2-11 4-6 8, Goodwin 0-4 0-0 0, Evans 0-0 0-0 0, Blakely 0-0 0-0 0, Nelson 4-7 0-0 9. Totals 20-58 9-14 53.
Halftime — ASU 27-26. Three-point goals — ASU 8-19 (Qedan 5-12, Olvera 2-4, McDowell 1-2, Watson 0-1), UNT 4-14 (Stanley 1-1, Hyder 0-3, McCoy 2-6, Goodwin 0-2, Nelson 1-2). Fouled out — none. Rebounds — ASU 34 (O’Bannon 8), UNT 38 (Hyder 18). Assists — ASU 13 (Olvera 6), UNT 10 (Dawkins 4). Total fouls — ASU 14, UNT 10. A — 426.