FRISCO -- North Texas secured its first winning season in 12 years largely because of a stifling defense that clamped down on more than a few teams as the Mean Green piled up win after win.
UNT added its most important win to date Wednesday with another stellar defensive performance in a 58-55 win over Charlotte in the opening round of the Conference USA tournament at the Ford Center.
The Mean Green forced 21 turnovers and came up with the key stops they needed down the stretch, including the biggest of the game in the closing moments.
Charlotte had the ball with 10.5 seconds left and the Mean Green up three. Amaya Ransom missed a 3 with eight seconds left, and UNT hung on for the upset.
UNT (16-13) is the No. 11 seed in the 12-team event. Charlotte (14-16) was the No. 6 seed.
The Mean Green advanced to face Louisiana Tech, the No. 3 seed, at 2 p.m. Thursday after extending their milestone season.
"It's incredible to add a tournament win," UNT coach Jalie Mitchell said. "I love that we have extended our season. This team deserves it and has worked for this opportunity all year long. I am glad we get a chance to battle again."
The Mean Green will have that opportunity largely because of the way they slowed a Charlotte team that finished the regular season ranked fourth in C-USA with an average of 66.7 points per game.
"We played like who we are," UNT guard Terriell Bradley said. "We were really intense and guarded the ball well. Everyone rotated. We played our game."
What was nearly as important for the Mean Green was the way they struck a balance offensively. UNT lost its last three games of the regular season and saw its point total fall in each of its last five games — a skid that concluded with a resounding thud in a 47-45 loss to Rice. The Mean Green's 45 points marked a season low.
UNT rebounded from that performance with a balanced outing in its win over Charlotte. Bradley was a first-team all-conference selection and did what she has done all season on her way to scoring 16 points.
The difference for UNT was that several of its secondary offensive threats came through. Lauren Holmes rebounded from finishing scoreless against Rice by tallying 11 points. Grace Goodhart added 10 points and Micayla Buckner eight.
Ransom led Charlotte with a game-high 18 points.
"Lauren has been great about keeping her confidence," Mitchell said. "The last few games of the season, we didn't shoot the ball well and did a lot of rest and recovering. We talked each other up and understood that it doesn't have to last. It's mental. You have to be ready to knock down shots."
UNT showed it was ready to do just that when it went on a 15-2 run in the first half.
Charlotte led 17-14 before Holmes drilled one of her three 3s in the first half to start UNT's run. Brittany Smith capped the burst with a layup that gave the Mean Green a 29-19 lead.
Charlotte pulled within 29-25 before UNT hit another game-turning 3, this time a shot from the wing by Adrianna Henderson. The Mean Green went on to finish the half on a 7-0 run capped by a Bradley layup that gave UNT a 36-25 lead.
UNT led by as many as 14 — the last time at 44-30 following a Goodhart 3 — before Charlotte worked its way back into the game.
The 49ers went on a 12-2 run in the third and were within 53-50 before Goodhart nailed a 3 with 2:55 left.
Goodhart's key 3 was the last of six UNT made from 3-point range against Charlotte's zone defense.
"We were ready for it, talked about ball movement and finding the open shot," Mitchell said of the zone. "A lot of those we knocked down; some of them we didn't. That is part of playing against a zone. You have to hit shots. Grace knocked some big ones down. Lauren knocked some down, and Micayla was a force inside. We need all of that to be successful."
UNT also needed the defense it has leaned on all season.
Goodhart's late 3 was the last shot UNT hit from the field. The Mean Green scored three points while making just three of six free throws as Charlotte closed in over the final three minutes.
UNT came up with enough stops to make sure its late offensive struggles didn't matter.
"I have always been impressed with them defensively," Charlotte coach Cara Consuegra said. "Since Jalie has been the coach, they have been one of the best defensive teams in this league. We knew they would pressure us, get in the passing lanes and play physical. We didn't handle that well."
UNT will move on as a result after winning a conference tournament game for the third straight year under Mitchell, who continues to pile up milestones in her tenure with the Mean Green.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.
North Texas 58, Charlotte 55
NORTH TEXAS (16-13) - Bradley 6-10 4-6 16, Buckner 4-8 0-2 8, Goodhart 4-8 0-0 10, Smith 2-7 2-4 6, Mims 2-6 0-0 4, Henderson 1-3 0-0 3, Terrell 0-0 0-0 0, Holmes 4-9 0-0 11. Totals 23-51 6-12 58
CHARLOTTE (14-16) - Robinson 3-3 2-4 8, Pearson 3-3 2-4 8, Raventos 5-10 2-2 13, Wilson 1-5 0-0 2, Ransom 6-14 2-2 18, Linney 1-5 2-2 4, Martin 0-1 0-0 0, Jamison-Myers 3-5 0-1 6, Harley 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-48 10-13 55.
Three-point goals - UNT 6-17 (Bradley 0-3, Goodhart 2-5, Smith 0-1, Mims 0-1, Henderson 1-2, Holmes 3-5) Charlotte 5-8 (Raventos 1-1, Ransom 4-7) Fouled out - none Rebounds - UNT 26 (Two tied, 6), Charlotte 34 (Pearson 8) Assists - UNT 16 (Two tied, 4) Charlotte 12 (Raventos 7) Total fouls - UNT 13, Charlotte 12 A - 2,031.