DENTON, TX - The North Texas men registered one of their strongest wins of the season, building a first-half lead, holding it throughout the second half, and getting clutch buckets and defensive stops down the stretch to close out Alabama-Birmingham, 76-65, Thursday at the Super Pit.
The contributions came from all over the Mean Green lineup. Four players scored in double figures, led by Alzee Williams with 18, and North Texas turned back repeated UAB rally attempts in the second half with a strong defensive effort that held the Blazers to just 18.4 percent shooting in the second half, 30.6 percent for the game, and blocked eight UAB shots.
"I thought our guys came out focussed," North Texas coach Tony Benford said. "We've been practicing well and playing well, and we talked about finishing. Tonight, we did that."
North Texas (11-8, 2-3 in league play) overcame UAB's big advantage in rebounds - highlighted by 27 offensive rebounds from the No. 2 rebounding team in the nation - with 49.2-percent shooting, getting 16 points from Jordan Williams, 13 from T.J. Taylor, and 10 from Colin Voss.
"We got beat on the backboards, but our guys made big shots and got stops when we really need them," Benford said.
North Texas rode aggressive defense, well-executed fast-breaks, a thunderous put-back dunk by Armani Flannigan and the hot hand of Alzee Williams to a 10-point lead midway through the first half. The Mean Green hit 10 of its first 13 shots, spearheaded by Alzee Williams, who scored 12 points in the first 10 minutes of the game.
UAB (12-6, 1-3), however responded with a 14-3 scoring run, whittling a 12-point North Texas lead down to one in just three minutes. From there, the lead rolled back and forth, trading hands on eight-straight scores before Jordan Williams's five-point burst sent North Texas to a 44-38 halftime advantage.
But the scoring pace of the first half did not survive halftime. The teams combined to hit just 10 of their first 44 shots, and North Texas nursed its lead into the final minutes of the game on the strength of eight points apiece from T.J. Taylor and Jordan Williams.
Inside six minutes to play, however, North Texas opened 10-point gap on a three by Taylor and two layups by Alzee Williams, who had been scoreless since his fast start. The Mean Green then finished off the victory with a pair of possessions in which they milked the shot clock down to less than four seconds, then scored a pair of clinching buckets.
North Texas shot a torrid 55.2 percent from the floor in the first 20 minutes on its way a 44-point half, their biggest first-half production of the season. The Mean Green's previous best was 42 against Incarnate Word.
The Mean Green's hot shooting extended to the three-point line, where North Texas was five-of-eight in the opening half. North Texas finished the game with eight three-point field goals, matching their season high.
This was the Mean Green's first win over an opponent with a winning record since the New Year's Eve victory over Texas A&M.
Lob you very much - UAB tried a lob pass in search of a back-door cutter for a dunk early in the second half, but the Mean Green's Armani Flannigan intercepted the pass and started a fast break the other way, which ended in a Chris Jones-to-Jordan Williams lob and dunk. Jones had a game-best seven assists.
Every player on the North Texas roster has now had at least one start. T.J. Taylor got his first start of the season Thursday, and he made the most of the opportunity with a 13-point performance and a pair of ankle-snapping moves on Blazer defenders. "We changed our lineup a little, and I thought T.J. helped us get to a really good start," Benford said.
North Texas had eight shot blocks - from six different players - Thursday night, tying their season-best eight rejections against Incarnate Word.
Kelvin Gaines made his fourth start of the season and third in a row, and had an impressive shot block that led the a fast break, capped by a no-look pass from Chris Jones to Collin Voss for a layup.
North Texas hosts Middle Tennessee on Saturday, Jan. 25, at the Super Pit. Tip-off is 7 p.m.