Turning over momentum
There was something awfully familiar about the way the final game of the regular season unfolded for North Texas.
The Mean Green played well at times on a night four seniors made their final appearance at the Super Pit. Laura McCoy stuck 3-pointer after 3-pointer. Alexis Hyder dominated at times inside.
Their performances — and those of several others — gave UNT a chance to upset Southern Mississippi, one of the top teams in Conference USA, and grab some momentum heading into next week’s conference tournament.
That opportunity slipped away in a flash in an 80-77 loss Wednesday night.
UNT (12-17, 6-10 C-USA) had a seven-point lead with 3:19 left, only to collapse under late-game pressure from Southern Miss (24-5, 13-3) like it has at a few other points this season.
“It’s disappointing that we keep losing the same way,” McCoy said. “It’s the same sad story over and over. We have hung with most of the teams in the conference [but lost] because we haven’t finished. We can finish, but we haven’t finished.”
That inability to close left UNT buried near the bottom of the conference standings. The Mean Green will play Louisiana Tech on Tuesday in the opening round of the tournament.
The Mean Green had a chance to pick up a whole lot of momentum heading into the tourney, but it made too many mistakes after Briesha Wynn hit a free throw to put UNT up 70-63.
UNT turned the ball over six times the rest of the way.
“We did a lot of things really right,” UNT coach Mike Petersen said. “What you can’t do is when you have a seven-point lead with three minutes left and our next three possessions are turnover, turnover, turnover and now it’s tied. You just can’t do that. We had been handling their pressure all game long because we had been playing over the top of it. Then we got very, very, very tentative.”
Southern Miss scored seven points in 20 seconds by capitalizing on three UNT turnovers, including a Tamara Jones layup that tied the game at 70.
The lead changed hands five times in the final two minutes.
Wynn hit a layup with 1:23 left to put UNT up 75-72 before Jamierra Faulkner hit a jumper and Jones converted a Brittanny Dinkins steal into a layup to put Southern Miss up 76-75.
Wynn answered with a layup that gave UNT its last lead at 77-76. UNT turned the ball over on the ensuing possession on an over-and-back call when Hyder stepped into the backcourt against Southern Miss’ press.
“They pressed just like they pressed before,” Petersen said. “They might have been playing with a little greater sense of urgency.”
Southern Miss capitalized on the turnover when Jones hit a pair of free throws with 25 seconds left. McCoy missed a jumper and UNT turned the ball over one final time in the closing seconds of the final home game for four seniors: McCoy, Desiree Nelson, Hannah Christian and Ash’Lynne Evans.
Hyder led UNT with 23 points, while Janis Peterson added 19, Wynn 16 and McCoy 12 on four 3-pointers.
Jones scored a game-high 32 and Faulkner added 21 for Southern Miss, which made the key runs in a game full of them.
UNT led 52-38 in the second half but gave up a 17-0 run. The Mean Green answered with a 15-3 run but couldn’t hold on, despite 18 second-half points from Hyder.
“I got hot for a second, wasn’t missing and they couldn’t guard for a while,” Hyder said. “They didn’t double and they kept coming to me. I tried to finish.”
Hyder wasn’t the only one who got hot for UNT.
The Mean Green led by as many as eight points in the first half after McCoy put on a shooting display from 3-point range.
McCoy hit four of her five attempts from beyond the arc, including two during a 14-4 UNT run late in the half that gave the Mean Green a 32-24 lead.
Southern Miss answered with a 6-0 run before McCoy hit her fourth 3 of the half to put UNT up 35-30 at the break.
UNT went 6-for-10 from beyond arc in the first half before cooling off for long stretches of the second half while Southern Miss made its move.
It was a disappointing ending for UNT, which now must regroup before the conference tournament.
“Go win. That’s our mindset,” Petersen said of how UNT will approach the tournament. “We are all disappointed in what our record is, but I don’t lack confidence in our team. We are 12-17 and 6-10. I think we are pretty good, but having said that, [look at the] scoreboard. The way we have played those numbers [UNT’s record] should be switched, but we are what we are.”
Southern Mississippi 80, North Texas 77
SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI (24-5, 13-3) – Jordan 1-2 0-0 2, Nix 1-1 2-2 4, Faulkner 9-21 2-4 21, Clemons 5-13 1-4 11, Dinkins 2-6 0-0 4, Coyne 1-2 0-0 2, Cotton 0-0 0-0 0, Jones 11-18 6-6 32, Martin 0-0 0-0 0, Folsom 2-4 0-0 4, Brown 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-67 11-16 80.
NORTH TEXAS (12-17, 6-10) – Wynn 5-12 5-7 16, Hyder 9-15 4-8 23, McCoy 4-10 0-2 12, Peterson 6-15 4-4 19, Nelson 3-8 1-4 7, Christian 0-0 0-0 0, Evans 0-1 0-0 0, Jeter 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 27-62 14-25 77.
Halftime – UNT 35-30. Three-point goals – Southern Miss 5-14 (Faulkner 1-4, Dinkins 0-3, Coyne 0-1, Jones 4-6), UNT 9-17 (Wynn 1-2, Hyder 1-2, McCoy 4-8, Peterson 3-4, Nelson 0-1). Fouled out – none. Rebounds – Southern Miss 36 (Clemons 10), UNT 43 (Hyder 10). Assists – Southern Miss 15 (Faulkner, Dinkins 5), UNT 12 (Nelson 4). Total fouls – Southern Miss 24, UNT 13. A – 798.