North Texas was staring a three-game losing streak in the face late Wednesday night against Indiana State, a team with depth and a host of terrific shooters.
The Mean Green trailed by five with 36 seconds left and needed to do absolutely everything right from that point on just to have a chance against a team that knocked off Indiana earlier this year.
That was the most gratifying aspect of a 79-76 overtime win at the Super Pit for the Mean Green.
UNT stayed composed and found a way to snap a its losing streak.
"These guys have worked extremely hard," UNT coach Grant McCasland said. "For us to find a way was great to see."
UNT (5-5) hit big shot after big shot and made the key defensive and hustle plays at in the closing seconds of regulation and overtime, none bigger than a sequence that sent the game into the extra period. The Mean Green were down 68-65 after Jordan Barnes made two free throws for Indiana State (3-5) with 9.7 seconds left.
UNT needed a 3 and went to Roosevelt Smart, who missed from the corner. Shane Temara grabbed the rebound and alertly flipped the ball to A.J. Lawson, who backed up and nailed a 3 at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
The shot was one of three 3s UNT made in the final 28 seconds of regulation after Indiana State took a 62-57 lead on a Brandon Murphy dunk with 36 seconds left.
Ryan Woolridge and Smart also made shots from behind the arc to keep UNT in the game even as Barnes made six straight free throws for Indiana State in the final 26 seconds.
"We believed in each other," Lawson said. "We believed we could win that game."
UNT certainly felt that way after Lawson nailed his 3 at the buzzer.
Indiana State guard Jordan Barnes hit a 3 to open the overtime period, but UNT quickly regained the lead at 74-73 on a Temara 3-pointer.
UNT led 76-74 after Smart made a pair of free throws with 56.4 seconds left. Simmons made that lead stand up with he blocked Tyreke Key's runner in the lane with 36 seconds left.
"Zach was the difference down the stretch," McCasland said. "[Key] went by A.J., and Zach picked him up. We have guys who are helping each other win. That is a big step for us."
Smart finished with 22 points and was one of four UNT players who finished in double figures. Temara and Lawson both added 18 points. Simmons scored 10.
Barnes led Indiana State with a game-high 25.
The win was all the bigger for UNT because of the circumstances surrounding it.
The Mean Green came in on a two-game losing streak that included a close loss to Texas-Arlington in their last game.
UNT lost guard Jordan Duffy to a knee injury against the Mavericks. The Mean Green already were without freshman guard Umoja Gibson, who was lost for the season with a broken leg he suffered in a loss at Nebraska.
UNT appeared if it might continue to struggle without those players after Qiydar Davis pumped in back-to-back 3s to spark a 10-0 Indiana State run that gave the Sycamores a 21-17 lead in the early going.
That edge grew to 10 points twice in the second half, the second time at 44-34 on a Barnes 3.
"We hit adversity when we got down double digits," Smart said.
The way UNT responded was encouraging for the Mean Green.
UNT battled back and made the key plays it needed down the stretch, none bigger than Lawson's 3 off a scramble play that involved some quick thinking by the Mean Green.
"Coach Mac always tells us that you can hurry up, knock the ball out and get a shot off," Lawson said. "Shane got it to me, and I knocked it down."
UNT was on its way to a slump-busting win shortly after Lawson made that shot, one he said could be a springboard for the Mean Green.
McCasland felt the same way.
"This is one of those games where you finally start to get over the hump and see all the hard work pay off," McCasland said. "I was proud of the way we finished and finding a way to win."
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.
FEATURED PHOTO: North Texas guard A.J. Lawson (1) makes a layup during the Mean Green's win over Indiana State on Wednesday at the Super Pit. (Jake King/DRC)
North Texas 79, Indiana State 76 (OT)
INDIANA STATE (3-5) - Kessinger 2-4 0-0 4, Murphy 3-6 2-5 8, Barnes 6-15 8-9 25, Scott 2-10 2-3 6, Key 6-8 3-4 16, Ojinnaka 0-0 0-0 0, Knight III 0-0 0-0 0, Hughes 0-0 0-0 0, Davis 5-8 1-2 13, Thomas 1-3 2-2 4, Rickman 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 25-57 18-25 76.
NORTH TEXAS (5-5) - Simmons 5-6 0-0 10, Temara 7-10 2-2 18, Woolridge 3-11 1-2 8, Lawson 7-13 2-4 18, Smart 5-17 9-10 22, Holston 0-1 1-2 1, Jackson 0-0 0-0 0, Arikawe 1-1 0-0 2, Miller 0-0 0-0 0, Draper 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-60 15-20 79.
Halftime - Indiana State 30-23 Three-point goals - Indiana State 8-23 (Kessinger 0-2, Barnes 5-9, Scott 0-6, Key 1-2, Davis 2-3, Thomas 0-1) UNT 8-21 (Temara 2-4, Woolridge 1-1, Lawson 2-3, Smart 3-12, Draper 0-1) Rebounds - Indiana State 30 (Two tied, 7), UNT 36 (Smart 9) Assists - Indiana State 8 (Barnes 3) UNT 12 (Woolridge 6) Total fouls - Indiana State 18, UNT 16. Attendance - NA.