Seniors Shine, But North Texas Falls Short Against Tulsa
Brandan Walton, Alzee Williams Each Score 20 In Regular-Season Finale
March 6, 2014
DENTON, Texas - In a senior night spent in an evening-long rally, the North Texas men again and again clawed their way within a bucket of the lead Tulsa had held since the opening basket of the game.
Battling a Golden Hurricane team in search of a share of the Conference USA regular-season title, the Mean Green pulled even with 10:27 to play. But that one more defensive stop, that one more field goal, that one more play to give them the lead eluded North Texas all night in a 79-68 loss to conclude the regular season, Thursday at the Super Pit.
"I'm really proud of my seniors," North Texas coach Tony Benford said. "We really wanted to win this game for those guys, and they played really well. We gave a great effort, we just didn't make enough shots."
The Mean Green was even with Tulsa on the boards, but the Hurricanes' significant free-throw advantage was the difference down the stretch. Tulsa was 29 of 43 from the line while North Texas made 17 of 22 free throws.
The loss did not affect the Mean Green's seeding in the upcoming Conference USA tournament. Outcomes elsewhere in the league determined before the end of the game that North Texas will be the No. 10 seed in El Paso and will face Rice on Tuesday, game time to be determined.
"Each time you go to a conference tournament, it's the start of a new season," Benford said. "We're familiar with Rice, and we'll be ready for them."
Tulsa took the lead on the opening three-point shot of the game and immediately ran its advantage to six points. Three times in the first half, North Texas drew within a bucket, sparked by Walton and Alzee Williams who had nine points apiece in the half. Williams was especially active attacking the rim early, while Walton was two-of-two from three-point range.
But the Golden Hurricanes responded to each challenge, pulling back out to a six- or seven-point lead. However, while Tulsa built its lead on 50-percent shooting from the floor, its poor free-throw shooting (seven of 14 in the half) kept the lead from growing any further.
The lead grew to nine at 51-42 with 13:41 to play in the second half when the Mean Green charged back with a 12-3 run, fueled by Walton and Alzee Williams, to tie the game at 54-54. But Tulsa immediately built the lead back to six, and though North Texas got within two with 5:24 to play, the Hurricanes survived the final minutes on a steady diet of free throws.
Thursday's home finale was senior night for the men. Completing their North Texas careers and honored before the game were seniors Vertrail Vaughns, Brandan Walton, and Alzee Williams, who recently became the 20th player in Mean Green history to score 1,000 points. All three seniors started Thursday's game.
The game got progressively more physical, with both teams in the double-bonus with 6:57 to play. Three North Texas players, Chris Jones, Brandan Walton and Alzee Williams, went down with injuries, but later returned to the game, and Colin Voss was shaken up when he picked up his fifth foul.
Walton's 20-point performance was a career high for the senior.
T.J. Taylor had eight rebounds for North Texas, a career high.
Among the fans in attendance Thursday was former North Texas wide receiver and Olympian Johnny Quinn. The North Texas Hall of Famer and member of the North Texas All-Century Football Team signed autographs in the concourse before the game. Quinn recently returned from Sochi, Russia, where he competed in on the USA bobsled team in the Winter Olympics.
North Texas will play in its first Conference USA Tournament next week in El Paso. The Mean Green will face Rice on Tuesday, game time to be determined.