Heartbreak is quickly becoming all too familiar for North Texas.
The Mean Green have been on the verge of pulling off a monumental upset time and again this season only to come up short. UNT’s game against Oklahoma on Thursday was just the latest example.
The Mean Green had a 10-point lead in the second half in front of one of the best crowds it has played in front of in years at the Super Pit, only to see Oklahoma storm back for an 82-80 win.
Sooners forward Kristian Doolittle hit two huge shots late, including a 3 with 13.5 seconds left to put Oklahoma up three.
The Sooners hung on from there and handed UNT the latest in a series of disheartening setbacks, this time in front of a crowd of 5,637. The Mean Green nearly upset No. 25 VCU earlier this season before falling 59-56 and saw a chance to upset No. 15 Utah State slip away when the Aggies pulled away late for a 68-59 win.
“It’s disappointing because the guys have practiced hard,” UNT coach Grant McCasland said. “You want there to be a reward for them, but there is no reward in coming close. It’s not OK. There has to be such a disdain for this result.”
There certainly is for UNT, which feels it’s a whole lot better than its 3-6 record.
The latest of those losses is arguably the toughest of the season for the Mean Green.
UNT was up 78-76 on Oklahoma (7-1) with 2:17 left after Zachary Simmons scored in the paint and had the opportunity to close the game out.
Doolittle responded with a jumper in the paint to tie the game and then drilled a 3 on Oklahoma’s next possession to put the Sooners up 81-78.
“He’s a good player. Kudos to that coach for seeing he was hot,” UNT guard James Reese said of Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger. “He hit some big shots.”
Umoja Gibson answered for UNT by driving to the paint, drawing a foul and hitting two free throws with 9.1 seconds left to bring the Mean Green within 81-80.
Oklahoma found Brady Manek on the in-bounds play, forcing UNT to foul him with 7.6 seconds left. The junior hit his first free throw before missing the second.
Gibson rushed the ball up the floor and kicked the ball to Thomas Bell, who had an open look at a 3 to win the game that bounced away.
“We should have won the game,” McCasland said. “We didn’t have enough grit defensively. We have to be more physical to finish games.”
UNT came into the night allowing just 59.4 points per game but struggled to contain the Sooners. Doolittle scored a game-high 28 points to lead four Oklahoma players to finish in double figures.
Austin Reaves added 22, while De’Vion Harmon scored 11 in a homecoming of sorts for the former Guyer standout.
UNT couldn’t match the Sooners’ firepower, despite 21 points from Gibson.
“We have to dig down and get some stops,” Reese said. “That’s what it comes down to, who gets more stops.”
The Mean Green didn’t get nearly enough in the second half after taking a 66-56 lead with 12:06 left on a DJ Draper 3.
The Sooners ripped off a 10-0 run and tied the game at 66-66.
“That has been our deal,” McCasland said. “We were in foul trouble and were trying to figure out who we wanted on the floor.”
Deng Geu, one of UNT’s best frontcourt players, was on the bench. The Mean Green never found the right combination to slow down Oklahoma in the key moments late of a game they led most of the way.
UNT took a 41-36 lead at the end of the first half behind 16 points from Gibson.
McCasland praised Kruger’s abilities to adjust heading into the game. Kruger made a big change in the second half that paid off when he put Doolittle on Gibson.
The senior held Gibson to five points in the second half.
“Them putting Doolittle on Mo was tough,” McCasland said. “His length bothered Mo.”
Doolittle took care of the rest by hitting big shot after big shot.
“Doolittle just said, ‘I’m winning this game,’” McCasland said.
That’s exactly what Doolittle did on a night UNT saw another opportunity for a signature win slip away yet again.
“It was a big game for us,” Draper said. “You don’t get a lot of opportunities where a school a lot of people want to watch comes to your home floor and you have your fans.”
That opportunity slipped away, just like so many others for UNT early in the season.
Oklahoma 82, North Texas 80
OKLAHOMA (3-6) – Doolittle 11-15 3-5 28, Manek 6-11 3-4 16, Harmon 4-9 1-2 11, Reaves 4-12 12-14 22, Bieniemy 1-4 0-0 3, Williams 0-1 0-0 0, Kuath 0-0 0-0 0, Iwuakor 0-0 0-0 0, Hill 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 27-54 19-25 82.
NORTH TEXAS (3-6) – Geu 2-6 1-2 5, Z. Simmons 4-5 0-0 8, Reese 4-8 3-3 13, Gibson 8-17 2-2 21, Hamlet 4-6 1-1 10, Bell 2-6 2-2 6, Draper 3-5 0-0 9, Smart 1-3 3-3 6, J. Simmons 1-2 0-0 2, Jackson 0-0 0-0 0, Mohamed 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 29-59 12-13 80.
Halftime – UNT 41-36. Three-point goals – Oklahoma 9-24 (Doolittle 3-3, Manek 1-4, Harmon 2-5, Reaves 2-6, Bieniemy 1-4, Williams 0-1, Hill 0-1) UNT 10-32 (Geu 0-3, Z. Simmons 0-1, Reese 2-6, Gibson 3-9, Hamlet 1-2, Bell 0-3, Draper 3-4, Smart 1-3, Mohamed 0-1). Fouled out none. Rebounds – Oklahoma 28 (Manek 8), UNT 32 (Bell 9). Assists – Oklahoma 12 (Bieniemy 5) UNT 11 (Z. Simmons 4). Total fouls – Oklahoma 12, UNT 18. A – 5,637.