Acheil Tac stared nervously at the rim after hoisting a shot as the final seconds ran off the clock in North Texas’ game against Southern Mississippi on Saturday at the Super Pit.
Terra Ellison cocked her head and leaned to the side, hoping to will her teammate’s last-ditch attempt into the net.
The ball bounced, bounced again and again before finally dropping through with 0.4 seconds left to give the Mean Green a thrilling 57-55 win against the Golden Eagles.
“I was lucky coach gave me the opportunity,” Tac said. “It was up there for a while before it went in. It felt good.”
Tac won’t forget that feeling anytime soon after a dramatic cap to the final home game of her career.
The Garland native was one of four players UNT honored during its senior day festivities before the game. Tac is the only member of the group who played for the Mean Green for four years.
UNT (10-16, 5-11 Conference USA) has endured nine straight losing seasons and is well on its way to a 10th after struggling most of the way in its first campaign under coach Jalie Mitchell. Tac hung in during those tough times and was able to walk out of the Super Pit on a high note following her final game as a player.
The win is one Mitchell said she sees as another sign UNT is headed in the right direction. The Mean Green doubled their win total from a disappointing 5-24 campaign from a year ago with their victory against Southern Miss (14-13, 7-9).
“I’m excited,” Mitchell said. “I’m excited that we left the Pit with a win. I’m excited that we got it done together, got it done for our seniors and got it done for our fans. It feels amazing. I am excited that we have doubled our wins from last season. A lot of great things happened today.”
Nothing was better for UNT than the way it pulled through in the closing seconds.
The Mean Green had a chance to close the game with a defensive stand after Candice Adams put UNT up 55-53 with a free throw with 17.1 seconds remaining.
Southern Miss answered with when Keri Jewett-Giles banked in a runner in the lane with six seconds remaining.
UNT had a chance to respond and set up a play coming out of a timeout.
The Mean Green tossed the ball to Tac in the post, where she was defended by Caitlin Jenkins, Southern Miss’ star 6-3 freshman center. Jenkins tried to draw a charge call, falling to the floor when Tac turned.
Tac was left wide open when Jenkins didn’t get the call and calmly hit the game winner.
“That was where the ball was supposed to go initially,” Mitchell said of the play. “Acheil had an opportunity and took advantage of it.”
Tac finished with 14 points. Kelsey Criner led UNT with 18 points, while Ellison added 12.
That trio helped UNT overcome a big night from Jenkins, who posted a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
UNT was in position to win the game in the closing seconds largely because of some clutch plays late in the fourth quarter after Southern Miss took a 49-44 lead with 4:54 remaining on a Jenkins layup.
Criner answered with a 3-pointer to spark an 8-0 run by the Mean Green.
Ellison capped the surge with another 3 to put UNT up 52-49. Ellison missed her first five shots from behind the arc before coming through at the perfect time.
“It changed the last part of the game once we got back up,” Ellison said. “It felt really good to hit that 3.”
Shayla Wilson connected on a layup for Southern Miss to pull the Golden Eagles back within one at 52-51 before Ellison answered with another jumper.
Jenkins scored with 35 seconds left to make it 54-53 UNT.
Southern Miss nearly came up with a steal in the closing seconds but was forced to foul Adams. The junior entered the day shooting 80.9 percent from the line and is one of UNT’s best free throw shooters.
Adams missed the first of her two attempts before drilling the second to give UNT a 55-53 lead. When Jewett-Giles answered for Southern Miss, UNT was back in a familiar situation.
Four of UNT’s first nine wins came in games decided by four points or fewer. That total includes a landmark 61-57 win against Oklahoma in November — the first win against a nationally ranked team in program history.
“The comebacks we have made show that the fight and intensity are there with this team,” Mitchell said. “We have talked since I got here about the pride you should have in the university and the program as well as passion, investment, resilience and excellence. All that stuff that you are supposed to have — we had that today. We played with a lot of heart.”
That passion helped put UNT in position to win its final home game.
The Mean Green capitalized when the final shot Tac took in an official game at the Super Pit bounced, bounced and bounced again while the Mean Green waited and hoped.
“I was trying to turn my head and guide it in,” Ellison said.
Ellison was one of the first UNT players to mob Tac on the court after the ball fell through and Southern Miss’ half-court heave didn’t get close to the rim.
Mitchell and her players were thrilled with how the game played out in a way that seemed more like a dream than reality in a tough season.
“We were looking for a bucket and got one from one of our seniors,” Mitchell said.
Delivering that shot was a dream ending for Tac, who made her last game at the Super Pit one she will never forget.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.
North Texas 57,
Southern Mississippi 55
Southern Mississippi 55
SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI (14-13, 7-9) – Cotton 1-2 0-0 2, Wilson 5-10 0-0 10, Jewett-Giles 4-6 0-0 9, Dinkins 1-4 0-0 2, Norris 3-8 0-3 6, Veiga 2-5 3-3 8, Jenkins 8-15 2-3 18. Totals 24-50 5-9 55.
NORTH TEXAS (10-16, 5-11) – Tac 7-12 0-0 14, Jones 0-4 0-0 0, Criner 6-10 4-5 18, Williams 1-4 0-0 2, Adams 3-9 1-4 9, Ellison 5-10 1-2 12, Frierson 1-1 0-0 2, Mabodu 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-50 6-11 57.
Three-point goals – Southern Miss 2-9 (Wilson 0-1, Jewett-Giles 1-1, Dinkins 0-2, Norris 0-2, Veiga 1-3) UNT 5-15 (Jones 0-1, Criner 2-3, Adams 2-6 Ellison 1-5). Fouled out – none. Rebounds – Southern Miss 29 (Jenkins 12), UNT 29 (Two tied, 6). Assists – Southern Miss 12 (Three tied, 3), UNT 12 (Criner 4). Total fouls – Southern Miss 12, UNT 14. A – 638.