UNT-Old Dominion advance art

North Texas forwards Zachary Simmons (24) and guard DJ Draper (55) celebrate with forward Deng Geu (23) during the Mean Green’s win over Charlotte on Thursday at the Super Pit.

One of Conference USA's traditional powers is all that is left standing between the North Texas and the top spot in bonus play.

The Mean Green will host defending conference champion Old Dominion at 1 p.m. at the Super Pit on Saturday, when C-USA will wrap up its final scheduled games of the regular season.

This is the second year that the league will use its bonus play format that will split the league into three pods based on the standings following the first 14 games of the conference season. Teams will play in their respective pods for the final four games of the regular season.

UNT (17-9) heads into Saturday's games in first place in the league standings at 11-2, one game ahead of Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers (10-3) handed the Mean Green one of their two losses in league play.

UNT can clinch the top seed in bonus play with a win over Old Dominion on senior day. The Mean Green will honor guards Roosevelt Smart and DJ Draper as well as forward Deng Geu.

"It’s a big game," UNT coach Grant McCasland said. "We will have alumni back and are playing the best defensive rebounding team and one of the best defensive teams in our league. We are going to be in for a physical battle.

"We are concerned with nothing other than finishing this first round of games in a way that shows we are continuing to improve."

UNT has never beaten Old Dominion. The Monarchs (11-15, 7-6) have struggled this season but did win both the C-USA regular season and tournament titles last year.

The Mean Green have reached several milestones this season, including beating Louisiana Tech in Ruston for the first time since 1952 and winning at Southern Miss for the first time since 1971.

UNT will look to add to those milestones at a time they are on a roll. The Mean Green have won 11 of their last 12 games and are coming off an impressive win over Charlotte. 

The Mean Green pulled away in the second half on Thursday for an 81-72 win over the 49ers. Charlotte came into the night at 8-4 in C-USA play and had a chance to pull within a game of UNT in the league standings with a win.

"Charlotte is a really good team that is good offensively and tough," UNT forward Zachary Simmons said. "They stick to their principles and don’t beat themselves. It was a big emphasis not to sleep on this team."

UNT put together one of its best offensive outings of the season in its win over the 49ers. All five of the Mean Green's starters finished in double figures on a night UNT shot 59.3% (32 of 54) from the field.

UNT scored 46 points in the paint.

"Not too many people can guard Zach and our forwards do a great job of screening and allowing us to get downhill into the paint," UNT point guard Javion Hamlet said.

Junior guard Malik Curry is averaging 12.6 points per game to lead Old Dominion and is one of four players averaging in double figures for the Monarchs. Umoja Gibson scored 20 points in UNT's win over Charlotte and is averaging a team-high 14.6 points.

The UNT women will also be in action on Saturday when they face Old Dominion at 1 p.m. in Norfolk, Virginia. The Mean Green (9-15) have lost five straight to fall to 3-9 in conference play.

UNT is in 12th place in the C-USA standings, just one game ahead of UTSA and Florida International. The top 12 teams qualify for the conference tournament.

Getting back on track won't be easy against Old Dominion. The Monarchs (21-3) are in a tie for first place in the conference standings with Rice at 11-1.

Old Dominion handed the Owls their first loss in league play on Thursday, when they pulled away in overtime for a 66-59 win.

Senior post Anisha George is averaging 13.4 points per game to lead UNT, while sophomore guard Ajah Wayne paces Old Dominion at 11.6.

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

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