Flannigan's Defense Sparks North Texas Rally In 75-65 Win
Mean Green Erase 13-Point Rice Lead For Sweep Of Season Series
Armani Flannigan had 10 points and three key shot blocks against Rice (photo by Rick Yeatts)
DENTON - After surrendering 12 three pointers in the first half - the most North Texas has allowed in an entire game this year - the Mean Green ratcheted up the defensive pressure in the second half and throttled the life from the Rice Owls for a 75-65 victory Saturday night at the Super Pit.
Down 45-32 in the first half, North Texas out-scored the Owls 43-20 the rest of the way. The Mean Green defense - led by Armani Flannigan - permitted Rice to make just two of its final 19 field-goal attempts, including an airball on the Owls' last three-point attempt with 26 seconds to play.
"They're one of the best passing teams in the country, and our zone did not do a good job running them off the three-point line in the first half," North Texas coach Tony Benford said. "We talked at halftime, and decided to scrap the zone and said, 'We're going to guard some guys.' We played man the rest of the way."
The switch worked, as Rice was held to 20.8 percent shooting in the second half after a 64-percent opening half.
Rice rode 63.2-percent shooting from the three-point arc to a 13-point first-half lead, using good ball movement to set up five different players to hit 12 of its first 19 attempts. Rice took only six shots from inside the arc, and made four of those. The Owls also pummeled North Texas on the boards, out-rebounding the Mean Green 17-9 in the first half.
But North Texas kept the Owls from taking control by forcing 10 Rice turnovers resulting in 11 points and getting 13 points from Anefiok off the bench. Williams added 10 in the first half, and NT cut the margin to eight, 45-37, at halftime.
North Texas continued to rally in the second half, in no small part because of the efforts on both ends of the court by Flannigan, who scored 10 points - including a thunderous two-handed dunk - but more importantly swatted three Rice shots, blocks that played a key role in disrupting the Owls' attack.
"Armani's our most versatile defensive player," Benford said. "He played with a lot of passion."
As a result, North Texas held Rice to just 10 points through the first 10 minutes of the second half. With 7:59 to play, Taylor's 15-foot jumper tied the game at 58-58, and moments later it was Flannigan that put North Texas ahead, 60-58, a lead the Mean Green never relinquished.
Senior Jordan Williams had three three-point field goals Saturday, giving him 134 for his career and moving him into ninth-place on the NT all-time list, passing Chad Elstun (1995-97) with 132.
The 13-point deficit was the largest North Texas has overcome this season, topping the eight-point gap the Mean Green rallied from three weeks ago in Houston against Rice.
Mean Green coach Tony Benford now has 37 career victories, passing NT hall-of-famer Charlie Johnson and Gene Robbins for 10th place in school history.
Rice's 12 first-half three-point field goals tied for the most threes allowed in an entire game by North Texas this year, matching the 12 made by the Owls three weeks ago in Houston. On that night, Rice hit 12 of 31, but on Saturday increased its efficiency with a 12-for-19 first-half display.
Overall, Rice made 15 threes Saturday, the most North Texas has allowed since Hartford made 17 in 2007.
North Texas committed just 10 turnovers Saturday, the second fewest of the season.
North Texas travels to Bowling Green, Kentucky, on Feb. 5 to face Western Kentucky. Game time is 7 p.m.