Javion Hamlet hasn’t given one of the more dramatic shots in North Texas’ season a whole lot of thought over the last few weeks.
The junior guard knows that isn’t the case when it comes to Louisiana Tech, the Mean Green’s first opponent in Conference USA bonus play.
The Bulldogs appeared to have UNT dead to rights before Hamlet took an inbounds pass in the closing seconds, raced up the floor and hit a floater at the buzzer to give the Mean Green a 51-50 win last month.
The teams will meet for the first time since that dramatic shot at 3 p.m. on Saturday in the opener of a doubleheader with the UNT women.
The Mean Green men are atop the conference standings entering C-USA bonus play, the league’s unique scheduling format that will have its top five teams play a round robin to close the regular season.
“They’re going to be ready for us,” Hamlet said. “They’re a great team.”
UNT (18-9, 12-2 C-USA) has won 12 of its last 13 games and has a one-game lead over Western Kentucky in the league standings heading into what will be one of the toughest stretches of its season.
The Mean Green are in position to win the C-USA regular season title but will have to play well over the next few weeks to capitalize.
Getting off to a good start won’t be easy. Louisiana Tech (19-7, 10-4) has won six of its last eight games and will have plenty of motivation heading into its game against UNT.
Officials ruled that Hamlet got off his game-winner just before the buzzer. Photos popped up on social media shortly after the game that appeared to show the ball still in Hamlet’s hand with the light on the backboard indicating time had expired illuminated.
“They had chances to win the game and there was some controversy to the finish,” UNT coach Grant McCasland said. “I’m sure they feel like they should have won. They would give their best no matter what.
“They’re playing for a conference championship just like we are.”
UNT has put itself in that spot largely because of its ability to find a way to win in a variety of ways.
The Mean Green used some stifling defense to roll to a 64-47 win over defending C-USA champion Old Dominion in its last outing. UNT won an 81-72 shootout with Charlotte just two days before.
“We’re going to come with the same energy and be ready to play,” UNT guard James Reese said of the Mean Green’s game against Louisiana Tech.
The Bulldogs are the top defensive team in C-USA with an average of 62.6 points allowed per game. Senior guard DaQuan Bracey is averaging 12.4 points per game.
UNT ranks just behind Louisiana Tech in scoring defense among C-USA teams at 63.0 points per game and has two of the league’s top 11 scorers. Sophomore guard Umoja Gibson is averaging 14.7 points per game, while Hamlet is adding 13.8.
Hamlet knows he’ll be in Louisiana Tech’s crosshairs after his shot in the teams’ first meeting. He just hasn’t thought a lot about his clutch play that helped him earn that distinction.
“We don’t talk about the shot,” Hamlet said. “We are focused on continuing to get better and continuing to win.”
The UNT women will also be in action when they host UTSA in a 7 p.m. game that is critical to their hopes to make the C-USA tournament.
UNT is in 12th place in the C-USA standings heading into Saturday’s games. The top 12 teams in the league advance to the conference tournament.
UTSA and Florida International are both one game back at 2-12.
The Mean Green hammered UTSA 79-55 in the teams’ first meeting earlier this season and will look to sweep the season series while pulling out of a seven-game slide.
UNT (9-17, 3-11) faced some of the top teams in C-USA during that stretch and suffered several heartbreaking losses, including a 69-66 setback at Rice on Thursday.
The Mean Green had a 13-point lead in the first half before the Owls rallied.
UNT was down two with 11 seconds left when Anisha George missed two free throws that could have tied the game. Charlene Shepherd grabbed the rebound on the second miss and was fouled but made just one of her two free throws.
N’Yah Boyd had a look at a 3 to tie the game at the buzzer that was blocked by Sydne Wiggins.
George led UNT with 20 points and is averaging 13.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game to lead the Mean Green.
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