North Texas was back in a familiar position on Thursday night.
The Mean Green were on the cusp of breaking through for a win in a tightly contested game in Conference USA play.
UNT failed to convert in two tight games in Florida last week and let another get away in a 65-57 loss to Southern Miss at the Super Pit.
The Mean Green were up five and had Jazion Jackson headed to the line to try to complete a three-point play with 8:36 left.
That’s when it all went downhill in a hurry for UNT.
The Mean Green went a whopping 8:16 without scoring before Anisha George converted a three-point play. By that point, UNT’s fate was sealed in a fourth straight loss.
“It’s frustrating,” UNT coach Jalie Mitchell said. “We work on these game situations in practice and try to learn and grow. We clearly have to do more of it and make sure we do a better job.”
UNT (7-10, 1-4 C-USA) managed to hang on till the end in a two-point loss to Florida International and a double overtime loss to Florida Atlantic. The Mean Green struggled to make the key plays late in those losses.
What made UNT’s loss to Southern Miss (11-4, 3-1) particularly frustrating for the Mean Green was they didn’t make any plays late, at least not offensively.
UNT turned the ball over six times and missed all eight of its shots from the field during its scoring drought in the closing minutes.
Southern Miss capitalized with a 16-0 run. Kelsey Jones put the Golden Eagles up for good with a layup at the 4:44 mark.
UNT never found a way to answer.
“We had a few good looks in there we didn’t knock down,” Mitchell said. “We have to value those possessions more and do what got us there. During the run that got us there, we got great shots, took care of the ball, got steals and turned them into easy points and got to the line.”
UNT struggled just to work its players free for quality shots during its late drought.
The Mean Green have dealt with injuries and off-court issues throughout the season and have struggled to find the chemistry they showed last season, when the Mean Green won 18 games and advanced to the championship game of the Women’s Basketball Invitational.
UNT went to first-team All-Conference USA guard Terriell Bradley in key spots last season.
Mitchell said George is the player her teammates identify as their top option this year now that Bradley has graduated. George didn’t take a shot during UNT’s scoring drought.
Freshman forward Destinee McDowell was another player UNT could go to late. The Mean Green lost that option in the last few days when Mitchell acknowledged that McDowell is out indefinitely.
The Mean Green got the ball to Randi Thompson and Charlene Shepherd instead only to see quality shots bounce away.
“We missed Anisha a few times in that stretch,” Mitchell said. “Randi had a couple of open looks and was shooting it well. That wasn’t a bad shot.”
They were just shots that wouldn’t fall.
Thompson led UNT with 15 points in her third straight start, while George came off the bench to add 13.
Southern Miss capitalized when UNT couldn’t find its scoring touch behind Shonte Hailes, who scored 10 of her 14 points during the Golden Eagles late run.
Respect Leaphart led Southern Miss with 22 points, while Alarie Mayze added 12 points.
UNT trailed 38-35 at halftime despite getting off to a hot start offensively.
Thompson and N’Yah Boyd hit back-to-back 3s to open the game for UNT, which hit five shots from behind the arc in the first half.
Southern Miss rallied behind Leaphart, who scored 18 of her points on 9-of-16 shooting before the break.
The Mean Green were locked in a tight game the rest of the way and appeared as if they might break through late when Jackson scored on the break to put UNT up five.
UNT just couldn’t finish.
“We are trying to figure ourselves out and get back to where our chemistry is growing every day,” Mitchell said. “That’s a part of it when you have people in and out of the lineup and other people trying to step up and do what the team needs.
“That’s where we are. We will get better.”
Southern Miss 65, North Texas 57
SOUTHERN MISS (11-4, 3-1) – Leaphart 11-20 0-0 22, Jones 4-6 1-1 9, Hailes 5-14 3-4 14, Almond 1-7 2-2 , Mayze 5-7 0-0 12, Landing 1-5 0-0 2, Gibbs 0-2 2-2 2, Carter 0-2 0-0 0, Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Kennedy 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 27-64 8-9 65.
NORTH TEXAS (7-10, 1-4) – Townley 1-1 0-0 2, Owens 1-6 0-0 2, Boyd 3-7 0-0 8, Mims 2-5 0-0 4, Thompson 5-9 2-2 15, George 5-7 3-3 13, Jones 1-5 0-0 2, Jackson 1-1 0-1 2, Shepherd 3-7 2-2 9. Totals 22-48 7-8 57.
Southern Miss 24 14 9 18 — 65
North Texas 19 16 13 9 — 57
Three-point goals – Southern Miss 3-10 (Leaphart 0-1, Hailes 1-4, Mayze 2-3, Carter 0-1, Kennedy 0-1) UNT 6-24 (Owens 0-5, Boyd 2-5, Mims 0-1, Thompson 3-7, Jones 0-3, Shepherd 1-3). Fouled out – Thompson. Rebounds – Southern Miss 34 (Leaphart 9), UNT 30 (Boyd 6). Assists – Southern Miss 12 (Hailes 7), UNT 9 (Boyd 6). Total fouls – Southern Miss 11, UNT 10. A – 1,281.