USM Breaks Open Tight Contest In Conference Opener

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DENTON, Texas -- In its first-ever Conference USA league game, the North Texas men's basketball team lost by 10 but showed that it could hold its own not only against a new conference opponent, but one that is receiving votes in the Top 25.

Southern Miss withstood a second-half Mean Green rally to hold onto a 74-64 victory on Thursday night at the Super Pit. The Golden Eagles' snap the Mean Green's four-game winning streak and hand the home team its first Conference USA loss.

The Mean Green falls to 9-6 and 0-1 in the conference, while Southern Miss improves to 13-2 and 1-0 in Conference USA.

"We have to defend without fouling," said North Texas head coach Tony Benford. "We can't turn the ball over 16 times, and we need to make free throws. That was the difference in the game."

Down 14 points at the half, North Texas came out of intermission with a full steam of energy and used a 23-10 run to cut the Golden Eagles lead to one point, 49-48 at 9:34. Behind stellar defense, North Texas forced Southern Miss into missing its first 10 field goals of the second half and caused five turnovers.

Southern Miss responded with an 11-0 run to extend its lead to 12 points, 60-48 at 6:50. The Mean Green was in foul trouble the rest of the way. Keith Coleman and Kelvin Gaines fouled both fouled out with seven minutes left in the game.

North Texas was able to cut the deficit back down to seven points but was unable to get any closer. Southern Miss scored 20 of its 35 second-half points from the free-throw line. For the game, the visitors shot 84 percent from the charity stripe.

In comparison, the Mean Green shot just 54 percent from the line, going 12-for-22. North Texas executed its game plan by driving to the basket and drawing fouls but was unable to convert all of them at the line.

"We work on free throws every day in practice," said Benford. "We just have to have the confidence to hit those shots."

North Texas started that second half rally with a 9-2 run. Jordan Williams scored seven of those nine points. The junior finished the game with a team-high 17 points.

The Mean Green continued to peck away at the lead by driving to the basket. Vertrail Vaughans made a layup, and then T.J. Taylor slashed to the basket, cutting the lead to four points, 42-38.

Another layup by Alzee Williams dwindled the Golden Eagles' lead to three points before Maurice Aniefiok made the 3-pointer that put the Mean Green within one point, 49-48.

Southern Miss was the team that started out hot to start the game. They did not miss. They hit six of its first seven shots to take an early 17-6 lead at13:33. Neil Watson had two of those baskets; both 3-pointers. The visitors scored eight of the final 11 points of the first half to enter intermission ahead, 39-25. The Golden Eagles shot 63 percent from the field, 50 percent from 3-point range and were 8-for-8 from the line in the first period.

Next up for North Texas

• North Texas continues its home stand with a Saturday afternoon game against Tulane. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m.

Mean Green Quick Hitters

• North Texas lost its first conference game of the season. The Mean Green played its first-ever Conference USA league game

Kelvin Gaines is starting his first game this season. He played a season-high 11 minutes and recorded his first two blocks of the season.

• Southern Miss took a 39-25 lead at the half, the first time that North Texas has not led at the half in the last five games.

Jordan Williams scored seven of the Mean Green's first nine points of the second half. He finished with 17 points, his eighth game in double figures this season. It's his first game in double figures since scoring 11 against Central Arkansas on Dec. 17. The 17 points was two points shy of tying a season high.

• A 23-10 run by the Mean Green to start the second half cut a Golden Eagles' 14-point halftime lead to a one-point deficit, 49-48, at 9:34.

Maurice Aniefiok scored in double figures for the third straight game. He came off the bench to score 12 points.



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