North Texas Turns Defense Into Offense In Win Over Southern Miss
J-Mychal Reese Leads Balanced Scoring Effort With Game-High 19 Points
DENTON -- North Texas snapped a five-game losing streak, behind a stifling defense and an efficient offense in a 70-54 win over Southern Miss on Thursday night at the Super Pit.
"I'm really pleased with the effort of my guys," head coach Tony Benford said. "We have been through a tough two weeks, but our guys continue to work hard every day at practice. And tonight, that really carried over. We spent a lot of time on the defensive end at practice and you saw the results tonight."
Defensively, North Texas (8-14, 3-6 C-USA) held Southern Miss (7-13, 4-5 C-USA) to 36.7 shooting, including a 7-of-24 mark from 3-point range. They also turned defense into offense, scoring 31 points off 17 Southern Miss turnovers. On the offensive end, junior J-Mychal Reese led a balanced scoring effort with a game-high 19 points.
Reese was 3-of-5 from 3-point range and 8-of-8 from the free-throw line as part of an offensive effort during which the Mean Green went 8-of-17 from 3-point range and 20-of-25 from the free-throw line. Sophomore forward Jeremy Combs added 14 points and nine rebounds, while freshman guard Ja'Michael Brown chipped in 12 points.
And after missing three games due to injury, freshman center Rickey Brice Jr. returned to action and provided a big lift off the bench with 11 points, five rebounds and three blocked shots in 17 minutes.
"We had some good looks," said Benford of the offense. "We want to get the ball in the paint, whether it's through a pass or off the bounce, and when you do that, you get a team in rotation. We did a great job of getting in the lane and forcing those guys to get into rotation. We played inside-outside, so we were able to get some good shots."
North Texas led wire to wire in the first half, leading by as many as 11 points midway through the frame. North Texas used runs of 5-0 and 6-0 to build an early 17-6 lead with 12:33 left in the first half.
Southern Miss answered back with a 9-0 run, taking advantage of a 6:29 scoring drought for the Mean Green that included seven missed field goals and three turnovers. Brown ended the drought for North Texas with back-to-back corner 3-pointers to push the lead back to 23-15 on the way to a 29-26 halftime lead.
"Our guys did a great job on the defensive end, setting the tone early," Benford said. "We got off to a really good start. We got some easy baskets in transition. I was really pleased with our overall effort against a team that was playing really well in Southern Miss."
North Texas scored the opening basket of the second half, before Southern Miss answered with five straight points to tie the game at 31-31, the first tie in the game since they were tied at 0-0. Southern Miss then grabbed its first lead of the game at 33-31 after two made free throws with 14:41 left in the game.
The Mean Green had an answer of their own with an 13-1 run to regain a 44-34 lead with 10:28 left in the game, highlighted by a breakaway dunk by Combs and a two-handed slam by Brice Jr.
"We were kind of stagnant there, and Coach (Rob) Evans told me to push the tempo more, so I told J-Mychal to get out and run, if he had the opportunity," Benford said. "They wanted a halfcourt game, and we're really good when we get out in transition. Our defense created our offense. We got some stops and we got a couple of run-outs. Reese got a steal and got it to Jeremy on a dunk, and that got us going there."
A big 3-pointer by junior guard Carrington Ward may have been the dagger for the North Texas, extending the lead to 48-37 with 8:38 left. Southern Miss battled back to within eight but that was as close as the Golden Eagles would get the rest of the way.
- Tony Benford picked up his 50th career win as a head coach
- North Texas held Southern Miss to 54 points, its lowest point total allowed this season. The 54 points for Southern Miss was its sixth-lowest output of the season
- North Texas held Southern Miss to 26 first-half points, tied for the third-fewest points allowed by the Mean Green in a half this season
- Rickey Brice Jr. made his first appearance for the Mean Green since Jan. 16 against Western Kentucky
- Jeremy Combs finished one rebound shy of his eighth straight double-double, putting up 14 points and nine rebounds
- With 14 points and and nine rebounds, Combs is now averaging 19.3 points per game and 12.8 rebounds per game in nine conference games this season
- J-Mychal Reese scored in double figures for the seventh time in conference play and the 18th time overall this season
- J-Mychal Reese was a perfect 8-of-8 from the free-throw line, tying his career high for free throws made
- Ja'Michael Brown scored in double figures for the second straight game and the 10th time overall this season
- Rickey Brice Jr. scored in double figures for the second time in his career, his first game in double figures since scoring 12 points in the season opener against Jarvis Christian on Nov. 13.
North Texas wraps up its two-game home stand against Louisiana Tech on Saturday at 3 p.m. from the Super Pit. That game will also be televised by the American Sports Network.