Turnovers Erase Early Lead, Send North Texas to 85-71 Loss
Mean Green Shoots 53.2 Percent But Falls In Conference USA Opener
DeAndre Harris had a team-high 20 points Friday night. (photo by Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports)
DENTON - Needing a big effort against one of the league favorites in its Conference USA opener, North Texas got off to a blistering shooting start while recording four shot blocks against UTEP's powerful inside-scoring attack to take early control of Friday night's game against the Miners. But NT's advantage quickly dissolved in a caustic sea of Mean Green turnovers.
UTEP's aggressive, trapping defense took North Texas out of its game and forged a double-digit lead by halftime, sending the Mean Green to an 85-71 loss at the Super Pit.
"You can't have turnovers against them, because they're really athletic up front," North Texas coach Tony Benford said. "You turn it over against them, they're going to make you pay for it."
North Texas took an early lead, courtesy of DeAndre Harris, who scored the Mean Green's first nine points to send NT to a lead that lasted for nine minutes. The Mean Green was good on 57 percent of its shots from the floor in the opening 20 minutes and led by as many as seven points, paced by Harris with 15 in the first half.
But UTEP compensated by extending its defense, trapping the ball, disrupting the North Texas passing lanes and forcing 11 first-half turnovers. The resulting 18 points off turnovers ignited UTEP's offense, which in turn found its three-point shooting touch to break open a tight game with a late 12-0 run for a 44-33 halftime lead.
"Coach (UTEP's Tim Floyd) does a great job of mixing up his defenses," Benford said. "They went to their 1-3-1, and we didn't do a good job attacking it. We worked on it in practice the last few days. We kind of lost our poise and had some careless turnovers."
The Mean Green, despite continuing to shoot well and finishing the game hitting 53.2 percent from the field, could not cut the margin under double figures the rest of the way, despite getting 11 points from Jordan Williams and nine from Colin Voss in the second half. Harris finished as the North Texas leading scorer with a career-high 20, while Williams had 14 points and Voss had 11.
Sophomore DeAndre Harris had a career-best 20 points, but, after an altercation with UTEP's C.J. Cooper in the final three minutes, he received a flagrant-2 foul and was ejected from the game.
North Texas is 7-8 in conference openers since 2000.
The Mean Green came into the game second in Conference USA and 37th in the NCAA in defensive rebounds with 27.3 per game. Friday, North Texas had 22 defensive boards.
UTEP's Vince Hunter, a 6-8 sophomore, came into the game as the reigning C-USA Player of the Week, UTEP's leader in scoring (16.5 per game) and rebounding (10.4), and having recorded his eighth double-double in 12 games, finished with a game-high 21 points and nine boards.
After starting three of the first eight games this season, true freshman Jeremy Combs has now started five straight.
North Texas was out-scored in the paint, 28-18.
Combs tied his career high for shot blocks with three Friday night.
The last time North Texas lost when shooting better than 53 percent from the floor was at Denver in 2010-11.
North Texas concludes its two-game, league-opening homestand on Saturday at 2 p.m. against UTSA at the Super Pit.