North Texas’ long wait for its return to the Super Pit turned out to be well worth it.
UNT ran out to a huge lead on Southern Miss in its first home game in 35 days, survived a bafflingly poor second quarter offensively and emerged with a 76-55 win on Friday night at the Super Pit.
The Mean Green reached a bit of a milestone in the process while moving to 7-2 in Conference USA play. UNT (10-4) surpassed its win total in conference play from last season, when the Mean Green finished 6-12.
UNT will look to build on that total on Saturday in a 3:30 p.m. game back at the Super Pit, where the Mean Green are 4-1 on the year.
“It was great to be back home and come back home in that fashion,” UNT coach Jalie Mitchell said. “We played together. Our defense turned into offense, which is what we want to do.”
The win bolstered UNT’s hopes to stay in the race for title in C-USA’s West Division, where the Mean Green are trying to chase down Rice and keep pace with UTEP.
Rice improved to 7-0 in league play with a win over Western Kentucky on Friday, when UTEP moved to 10-3 with a win at Florida International.
UNT bolstered its conference title hopes, thanks largely to a big night offensively from guards Quincy Noble and N’Yah Boyd. Noble scored a game-high 21 points, while Boyd added 14.
The pair helped UNT turn up the pressure on Southern (6-7, 4-7) and come up with 18 steals.
The Mean Green posted several of those steals in the first quarter when they ran out to a 29-11 lead.
“Being in the press and having high energy helped us get off to a good start,” Noble said.
UNT hit three 3s in the opening period before going cold. The Mean Green scored just six points in the second quarter when Southern Miss climbed back.
The Golden Eagles went on a 12-0 run that started late in the first quarter and cut UNT’s lead to 35-32 at halftime.
“We got comfortable with our lead and didn’t take care of the ball or stay aggressive on offense like we were before,” Noble said.
Southern Miss capitalized behind guards Kelsey Jones and Daishai Almond, who led the Golden Eagles with 14 and 11 points, respectively.
UNT answered with a 12-0 run to open the third quarter and never looked back in the opener of its first home series since it swept UTSA in early January. The Mean Green have had a home series against Old Dominion and a home game against Rice postponed since due to coronavirus concerns.
“I was happy with the way we responded in the second half,” Mitchell said. “We talked about energy, toughness and teamwork at halftime.”
UNT outscored Southern Miss 22-4 in the third quarter.
Mitchell said the Mean Green have a lot they can learn from the way they played in the opening game of their series against Southern Miss as they look to complete the sweep.
UNT is 3-1 in the second half of conference series this year.
“The way we have played in back-to-back games has worked really well,” Mitchell said. “I hate to say that on the first day, but I like how things worked out today.”
UNT acknowledged Southern Miss coach Joye Lee-McNelis, who is fighting lung cancer, before tipoff. A video message from Mitchell was played before player introductions. Mitchell also presented Lee-McNelis with a bouquet of flowers.