Combs's Last-Minute Heroics Lift North Texas To 73-66 Win
Mean Green Hang On Late To Topple Louisiana Tech
Jeremy Combs had his second double-double of the year to lead NT past Louisiana Tech (photo by Rick Yeatts)
DENTON - Jeremy Combs's shot block on one end of the floor and put-back basket on the other in the final minute of play preserved a heart-stopping 73-66 win over league-leading Louisiana Tech Saturday night at the Super Pit.
Combs, who finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds for his second double-double of the year, swatted a Bulldog shot with 49 seconds to play and North Texas holding a three-point edge. On the Mean Green's following possession, Combs tipped in a North Texas miss for a five-point lead with 24 seconds left.
"Jeremy came out and really battled," North Texas coach Tony Benford said. "We hit free throws when we needed them and made plays down the stretch. They're a great team and we knew a run was going to come, but our guys showed a lot of resiliency."
North Texas (8-10 on the year, 2-4 in C-USA) saw the Bulldogs (14-5, 5-1), who came into the game unbeaten in Conference USA, erase 20 points of a 21-point Mean Green halftime lead. But Combs, Jordan Williams, Colin Voss and T.J. Taylor each scored 16 points and all made critical contributions in the final seven minutes - be it a crucial basket, a critical rebound, a desperately-needed defensive stop, and five of six from the free-throw line.
"We got beat by a team that played its heart out," Louisiana Tech coach Michael White said.
North Texas opened the game with an uncanny shooting performance and its best offensive half of the season. The Mean Green hit 15 of its first 18 shots, including its first five three-point attempts, while committing just four first-half turnovers. The points came at the Bulldogs from all over the roster and all over the floor, with seven players scoring and the three-point barage complimented by 18 points coming in the paint.
Louisiana Tech's very mortal 37-percent shooting could not hope keep pace with North Texas' unearthly 80-percent opening salvo. The Mean Green, led by Taylor's 12 points, Voss's 11 points and two blocks, and Combs's 10 points and six rebounds, held the lead from the opening basket, shot 72 percent for the half, and got a buzzer-beating three from Taylor for a 21-point, 49-28 halftime advantage.
"Fifteen of 18, absolutely unbelievable," White said.
"We've been doing a good job defensively but we haven't really scored," Benford said. "Tonight we did a good job moving the ball."
That shooting, however, proved unsustainable in the second half. Worse were the turnovers, the Mean Green's all-too-frequent Achilles heel. After just four first-half turnovers, North Texas coughed it up eight times in the first 10 minutes of the second half, fueling a Louisiana Tech rally. The Bulldogs buried five threes while the Mean Green made just three of its first 11 shots, and the 21-point margin shrunk to seven, 57-50, midway through the second half. Louisiana Tech pulled within one with 4:22 to play.
But North Texas never relinquished the lead. A shot block by Voss with seven minutes to play slowed the Bulldog momentum, and North Texas got three baskets from Williams, including two off offensive rebounds, to build the lead back to five with two minutes to play. From there, the Mean Green allowed Louisiana Tech to hit just one of its final seven shots.
• Senior Jordan Williams is closing on a spot in the top 10 of North Texas all-time scorers. After Thursday's game, Williams has 1,322 points, edging closer to Leonard Hopkins (2002-05) in 10th place with 1,340 points.
• The Mean Green's staggering first-half assault was the most points scored in the first half since NT scored 50 against Houston Baptist in 2009-10, and it was the best half of shooting by NT since a 78.9-percent performance in 2013 against Florida International.
• This was the Mean Green's first win over Louisiana Tech since 1986.
• Williams came within one rebound of a double-double, pulling down nine boards to go with 16 points.
North Texas hosts Southern Miss on Saturday, Jan. 24, at 7 p.m. at the Super Pit.