James Reese

North Texas coach Grant McCasland gives North Texas guard James Reese a high-five during the Mean Green’s win over UTEP on Saturday at the Super Pit.

North Texas has hit one milestone after another while soaring up the Conference USA standings over the last few weeks.

That list off accomplishments continued to grow on Saturday in a 67-57 win over UTEP at the Super Pit. The Mean Green picked up their first win over the Miners in Denton since 1952, and that was just for starters.

UNT also ran its winning streak to eight games, a surge that has come entirely in conference play. The Mean Green wrapped up a three-game homestand atop the C-USA standings with an 8-1 mark in league play, their best start to a conference season since 1988-89.

UNT coach Grant McCasland and his players can sense that they are in the midst of what is becoming a special season. What McCasland heard from UTEP coach Rodney Terry after the Mean Green’s win has him convinced the rest of C-USA can see it as well.

“You can see a belief in what we are doing,” McCasland said. “Coach Terry is a good friend of mine and has a good team. He told me, ‘Man, you have a lot of belief with your team. You can tell they really believe in what you are doing and are all on the same page.’ That said a lot about our team.”

So does where the Mean Green stand heading into an off week.

UNT (14-8, 8-1 C-USA) came into the night alone atop C-USA standings and will remain there after knocking off the Miners (12-9, 3-5). Western Kentucky (6-1) was the only other team in the league with just one loss heading into its game against Marshall on Saturday night.

UNT has gotten to that point by playing solid defense and finding scoring from a variety of sources. The Mean Green’s win over the Miners was no different.

UNT held six straight opponents under 60 points before knocking off UTSA 98-78 in a track meet of a game on Thursday.

The Mean Green were back to form in their game against the Miners, especially late.

UTEP stormed back from a 16-point deficit in the second half and pulled within 58-53 with 3:35 left on a Bryson Williams layup.

UNT came up with two straight stops and James Reese hit a clutch 3 to ice the game.

“We stayed composed,” UNT forward Deng Geu said. “We have had teams come back on us. We knew that if we stayed composed, we could pull out the win.”

UNT showed that composure on the defensive end and at the free-throw line. Javion Hamlet and Thomas Bell combined to hit six straight free throws down the stretch to help the Mean Green pull away.

UNT was deadly accurate at the stripe against UTEP, hitting all but two of its 23 attempts.

“If you get there and don’t make it, it doesn’t really matter,” Geu said. “The time we put in before and after practice paid off.”

UNT needed those free throws on a day it relied on several of its secondary threats offensively. Zachary Simmons led UNT with 16 points and was one of three Mean Green players who scored in double figures. Hamlet added 14 points and Thomas Bell 10.

UNT needed that balance during a tough night for Umoja Gibson. The sophomore guard scored all six of his points from the line on a night he missed all nine of his shots from the field.

Gibson had scored in double figures in seven straight games and posted a career-high 27 points in the Mean Green’s win over UTSA.

UNT’s depth helped it win without a big night from Gibson.

“Everyone is a threat on this team,” Bell said. “We all contributed to the win.”

That was certainly the case during UNT’s 16-5 run in the first half that broke the game open. UNT and UTEP were tied up at 11-11 when Simmons hit a pair of free throws to spark the Mean Green.

Hamlet scored eight points and Simmons added six during the run. UNT hit all eight of its free throws during the surge and went a perfect 12-of-12 from the line in the first half.

UNT built its lead to 52-36 before UTEP rallied behind Souley Boum. The sophomore scored a game-high 21 points and hit a 3 that helped spark UTEP’s comeback.

“We had to do it the hard way down the stretch, getting stops,” McCasland said.

That effort helped UNT extend its winning streak and reach another set of milestones in what is quickly becoming a memorable season.

“It’s definitely cool,” Geu said. “To keep on winning and breaking these marks is exciting.”

North Texas 67, UTEP 57

UTEP (12-9, 3-5) – Vila 1-2 0-0 3, Williams 7-17 3-4 18, Archie 0-1 0-0 0, Hawkins 2-2 0-0 4, Edwards 2-4 0-0 5, Boum 6-12 7-8 21, Lathon 0-2 2-2 2, Verhoeven 0-0 0-0 0, Tarke 0-3 2-2 2, Stroud 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 19-44 14-16 57.

NORTH TEXAS (14-8, 8-1) – Geu 4-9 0-1 8, Z. Simmons 5-10 6-6 16, Reese 3-6 0-0 9, Gibson 0-9 6-6 6, Hamlet 4-7 6-6 14, Bell 3-4 3-4 10, Draper 1-1 0-0 2, Smart 1-2 0-0 2, J. Simmons 0-0 0-0 0, Jackson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-48 21-23 67.

Halftime – UNT 38-27. Three-point goals – UTEP 5-19 (Vila 1-2, Williams 1-5, Archie 0-1, Edwards 1-3, Boum 2-5, Lathon 0-1, Tarke 0-2) UNT 4-11 (Reese 3-4, Gibson 0-4, Hamlet 0-1, Bell 1-1, Smart 0-1). Fouled out – none. Rebounds – UTEP 28 (Williams 6), UNT 27 (Reese 6). Assists – UTEP 7 (Lathon 4), UNT 8 (Hamlet 5). Total fouls – UTEP 21, UNT 14. A – 4,092.

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

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