HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - North Texas got strong efforts from Jordan Williams, Roger Franklin and Tony Mitchell, but simply did not have enough sources of offense to overcome a balanced Louisiana-Lafayette attack and suffered a season-ending 74-55 loss Friday night in the first round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
"They performed better than us tonight," Mitchell summed things up. "They executed their offense and we didn't."
"I thought they did a great job of attacking us early," North Texas coach Tony Benford said. "The second half we didn't get into a flow offensively."
The Mean Green, short-handed so much of the season by injury, was without Alzee Williams Friday, held out of the game due to a violation of team rules.
"Alzee's our defensive stopper," said Mitchell, who had the 20th double-double of his career with 10 points and 12 rebounds. "He brings energy. I thought we were out of sync without him."
The absence wasn't missed by the Cajuns.
"We had more depth than they did," Lafayette coach Bob Marlin said.
The opening-round defeat marks the Mean Green's earliest exit from the Sun Belt Tournament since the 2005-06 season, and ends a three-year run in which North Texas has reached the tournament's championship game. North Texas finishes the year at 12-20, while ULL (13-19) moves on to face top-seed Middle Tennessee in Saturday's quarterfinals.
"It's hard," said North Texas sophomore Jordan Williams, who had a team-high 19 points. "We had good practices, and everyone thought we'd make a run in the tournament."
North Texas took an early 6-4 lead on two buckets from Franklin and a Franklin assist to set up a two-handed dunk by Jordan Williams. The Cajuns, however, responded with an 8-0 run that put them front for the rest of the half.
The Cajuns' lead grew to 20-13, but a Franklin dunk and three-point play, followed by a three from Jordan Williams, pulled the Mean Green within one and they stayed close the rest of the half. Williams had 14 points in the half, Franklin had seven and Mitchell had five.
ULL, however, maintained the lead, helped by 10 offensive rebounds in the first half that helped the Cajuns take 38 shots to the Mean Green's 23 and score 10 second-chance points.
The game started to slip away from the Mean Green in the first five minutes of the second half. North Texas missed its first four shots while ULL went on its second 8-0 of the night, this one propelling the Cajuns to an 11-point lead at 41-30, an advantage they bumped to 14 points with 14:44 to play.
Led by scoring from Franklin and Williams and a big rebounding night from Mitchell, North Texas stopped the bleeding and inched back. They closed to within eight at 56-48 and had chances to edge closer, but could not find the scoring burst to overturn the Cajun lead. ULL, meanwhile, hit a pair of clutch threes in the final minutes to solidify their margin.
Franklin, in his final college game, finished with 13 points and five rebounds.