Deckie Takes Over: North Texas Rallies For 77-75 Triumph
Johnson's Five Threes In Final Eight Minutes Overturn 12-Point FIU Lead
DENTON - Everyone in the Super Pit knew it was coming. The North Texas bench knew. The fans knew. Florida International certainly had to know.
The Panthers just couldn't do anything to stop it.
The Mean Green's Deckie Johnson, who had rattled off four three-pointers in the final eight minutes to get North Texas within two, sank a 25-foot three with 19.5 seconds to play, capping his remarkable 19-point explosion that demolished a 12-point FIU lead and sent North Texas to a 77-75 victory Thursday night.
Johnson scored a career-best 32 points - including 19 points on five three-point field goals and four free throws in the last 8:08 of the game - and set up his own heroics with the defensive play of the night. After hitting a three with 43.3 seconds to pull the Mean Green within two at 75-73, Johnson drew a charge on FIU's Daviyon Draper as he fought to get across midcourt, giving North Texas the ball with 36.2 seconds left.
"He just took over the game," North Texas coach Tony Benford said. "He's a big-time player and made some unbelievable shots."
Johnson's final shot came as North Texas worked a weave to clear space, and, surprisingly, FIU gave Johnson just enough space.
"He called his own play," Benford said. "That's just a great player making a great play."
"When I'm hot, I'm hot," Johnson said. "I want to shoot almost every time I get it. It was just a good shot. He (the FIU defender) sagged off me. I feel like he disrepected me."
Big, big, big mistake.
The Panthers' next posssession ended in a charging foul as they drove the lane in search of a go-ahead score. After J-Mychal Reese, fouled on the ensuing inbounds play, hit one of two free throws, the Panthers got off a shot from just across midcourt at the buzzer that banged off the rim.
Thursday's thriller was the most back-and-forth game of the season, fearuring 17 lead changes. It was that last one that looked improbable with eight minutes left.
FIU put together a 12-0 run midway through the second half to open the first significant lead of the evening, and was up 68-56 when Johnson, with key contributions from Jeremy Combs, Reese and Ricky Brice, Jr., began ripping a way at the lead.
"We just kept fighting," said Combs, who finished with 15 points and 17 rebounds for his 12th double-double of the season. "Tonight we just made the plays we needed to make."
FIU seized its dozen-point lead behind dominant 6-11 center Adrian Diaz, who scored 23 points, registered four blocks and drew defensive attention that opened up Panther sharp-shooters for critical three-pointers.
The opening half was a distinct clash of styles. The North Texas offense was feast or famine in the opening minutes, connecting on 57 percent of its shots from three-point range but just 17 percent inside the arc. J-Mychal Reese and Deckie Johnson combined for five threes and 19 points in the first half.
FIU, meanwhile, hammered away inside, scoring 14 of its first 21 points in the paint and generating offense predominantly off NT turnovers or FIU second-chance opportunities, including a pair of rim-rocking dunks by Diaz.
The radically-different approaches, however, did little to separate the teams. Neither squad built an advantage of more than two possessions and the lead changed hands 10 times - tying for the most in an entire NT game this season - before finally settling on a 37-35 FIU edge at halftime.
Instead of their usual home whites, North Texas wore green uniforms Thursday night.
NT hit six three-point field goals in the first half, the most in the opening half since the season opener.
In one of the most violent dunks of the season, Jeremy Combs posterized FIU center Adrian Diaz.
Johnson made eight three-point field goals Thursday to tie the North Texas single-game record. Joe Ervin, Chad Elstun, Tony Worrell and Ray Schufford also made eight in a game.
The Mean Green host Florida Atlantic on Saturday, Feb. 20, at the Super Pit. Game time is 7 p.m.