North Texas Rallies But Struggles At Free-Throw Line In Loss
Jeremy Combs's 20-Point, 19-Rebound Performance Not Enough Against UTEP
Jeremy Combs had 20 points and 19 rebounds against UTEP.(photo by Rick Yeatts)
EL PASO - North Texas got a monster performance from Jeremy Combs, a sensational second half from J-Mychal Reese, and stormed back from a double-digit halftime deficit on the road for the second game in a row.
Unfortunately the Mean Green's reputation as a poor free-throw shooting team proved well earned in the closing minutes when UTEP went to a hack-a-Green strategy, sending North Texas to the line again and again. NT shooters were successful on just 50 percent of its free throws for the game and four of nine in the final four minutes, allowing the Miners to come away with an 84-75 win Sunday evening at the Don Haskins Center.
"They got us with that," North Texas coach Tony Benford said of UTEP's late tactics. "We've got to make those free throws. If we make those free throws, we're right there."
The loss snaps the Mean Green's two-game win streak and levels their Conference USA record at 1-1 (6-9 on the year). UTEP moves to 10-5 and 2-0.
Combs, who scored 20 points and had a career-high 19 rebounds, and Reese, who had 14 points in the second half and finished with 17 points and nine assists, fueled a rally from a 41-31 halftime deficit. The Mean Green inched their way back, drawing within one at 54-53 with 13:44 to play, then rallied again after an 8-0 UTEP run. A Combs put-back cut the gap to three, a Reese three cut it to two, a Combs-to-Reese fast break tied the score, and a Deckie Johnson three with 4:01 to play gave North Texas its only lead of the game, 71-70.
Junior forward Eric Katenda also played a big role in the rally, scoring 12 points and grabbing a career-high nine rebounds, but he fouled out with 3:07 left to play, taking away the Mean Green's best free-throw shooters.
That's when the Miners began fouling. The strategy disrupted the Mean Green offense, which hit 51.6 percent of its field goals in the second half but continued its season-long struggles at the line.
North Texas trailed throughout the first half due to dreadful shooting in the opening 20 minutes. The Mean Green hit just 32 percent from the field, missed all seven three-point attempts, and made only 47 percent from the free-throw line.
But Combs kept North Texas in the game. The Mean Green's sensational sophomore forward had a double-double by intermission with 11 points and 12 rebounds, and his work on the boards led NT to a 31-23 rebounding advantage - including a 10-3 edge in offensive rebounds.
Combs recorded his fourth double-double of the season, and had a career best 19 rebounds. His previous best was 15 boards last season against Rice.
Reese had a career-high nine assists, topping his previous best of eight earlier this year against Texas College. He also matched his best rebound performance with six.
North Texas had a rough night from beyond the three-point arc, hitting just 20 percent (three of 15), well below their season average of 34.5 percent.
North Texas has a few days off before opening a three-game homestand. The Mean Green host Rice on Saturday, Jan. 9, at 1 p.m. at the Super Pit.