HOUSTON — North Texas used stingy defense and 18 points from Alzee Williams to whittle its way back into things, but Rice’s early lead was too much to overcome in a 75-70 Mean Green loss at Tudor Fieldhouse on Thursday night.
The Mean Green (11-11, 2-6 Conference USA) cut a 17-point Owl lead to 56-54 with a pair of Chris Jones free throws with 6:08 left, but couldn’t close get any closer. Rice hit eight free throws in the final 46 seconds to seal the victory, its second straight at home.
The Mean Green held the Owls (7-15, 2-6) without a field goal for a nine-minute stretch midway through the second half, which allowed the Mean Green to claw back. Freshman Sean Obi broke Rice’s scoring drought with a dunk with 4:10 on the clock and hit two layups in the next three minutes.
Obi was the difference for the Owls with 18 points and 13 rebounds on the low block.
UNT’s Colin Voss posted his third double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Jones joined him in double figures with 12 points.
The Owls pounced on the Mean Green out of the gate. An Andrew Drone dunk capped a 25-8 Rice run with just under 11 minutes left in the first half.
That’s when North Texas tightened the defensive screws. UNT’s man-to-man defense held Rice to a pair of field goals over the final 8:30 of the first half, which got its transition game going. The result was a 13-2 run fueled by six points from Williams.
Williams’ runner with 40 seconds left made it a four-point game, but Obi had a put-back with 10 seconds left to send the Owls into halftime up 37-31.
North Texas will visit Louisiana Tech at 6 tonight.