North Texas Survives Frantic Creighton Rally For 62-58 Win
Mean Green Knocks Off Big-East Power After Building 27-Point Lead
T.J. Taylor had two critical rebounds and five free throws in the final 24 seconds Sunday (photo by Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
DENTON - Against one of the top teams from one nation's power conferences, North Texas dominated every phase of the game for the first 25 minutes Sunday afternoon at the Super Pit. The Mean Green turned in a suffocating defensive effort to go with a balanced offense, strong rebounding, and flawless free-throw shooting to open a 27-point lead over Big East power Creighton with 15:28 to play in the game.
Then came the holding-on-for-dear-life part.
A frantic Blue Jays onslaught erased 25 points of the Mean Green's 27-point lead, but North Texas got three critical stops in the final 24.5 seconds, and T.J. Taylor grabbed a pair of rebounds and hit five free throws in the final seconds to preserve a nail-biting 62-58 victory before the largest home crowd of the season.
"Jesus," Mean Green coach Tony Benford gasped after the final buzzer. "These kids battled, battled, and battled. We showed a lot of resiliency, even when they made that run.
"This is a huge win for this program," he added. "It's a long season, and this is going to help us going into the conference. We like our chances in league play, and we think we can play with anybody."
The contest began as a chess match - both teams probing for weaknesses in the opposing zone. It was North Texas (now 6-4) that first found and exploited scoring chances, riding an early 8-0 run to a 14-5 lead.
The Mean Green defense, meanwhile, out-muscled the taller Creighton bigs, got lane-clogging efforts inside led by Colin Voss, and disrupted the Blue Jays' passing lanes to relegate Creighton - a team naturally inclined to bomb away from outside - almost exclusively to the three-point arc. Fourteen of the Blue Jays' 24 first-half field goal attempts were from long distance, and they made only two. The Mean Green made matters worse with six first-half steals and a 21-16 rebounding edge while connecting on four of seven three-point attempts, two each by Maurice Aniefiok and DeAndre Harris. Voss, meanwhile, added eight points as North Texas seized a 35-18 halftime lead.
"We really executed the game plan in the first half. We wanted to contain Chatman," Benford said of Creighton point guard Austin Chatman, who North Texas held to nine points on four-of-14 shooting. "We contested the three-point shot and only had two turnovers in the first half, so even when we weren't scoring, we took care of the ball."
Creighton (9-4 on the year) tried to rally early in the second half, forcing a pair of turnovers and hitting a three-pointer, but North Texas responded to the threat, increasing the lead to 27. That's when Creighton turned up the intensity, and the blow-out turned into a game.
From that point, the Mean Green scored just seven points in the next 15 minutes while committing 15 turnovers. A 13-0 run to cut the margin to 14 at 51-37 with under 10 minutes to play, and the game became much more physical the rest of the way.
"The second half, we didn't take care of the basketball," Benford said. "They're a great team, and they're going to make threes.
And so the Blue Jays did, hitting eight of 25 three-point attempts in the second half.
After a pair of buckets by Voss - who finished with a team-high 16 points and eight rebounds - pushed the lead back to 16 at 55-39, a 16-2 Creighton run sliced the margin to 57-55 with 1:12 to play.
But Taylor made one of two free throws, setting the stage for final 24 seconds, when North Texas denied Creighton on its next five three-point shots, and Taylor's rebounds and subsequent free throws sealed the victory.
• North Texas senior guard Jordan Williams and Creighton point guard Austin Chatman were high school teammates at The Colony, where they advanced to the state tournament in their junior seasons. Williams transferred to Dallas Kimball the following season.
• Jeremy Combs is off to a strong start at North Texas. Among Conference USA freshmen, he is No. 2 in scoring at 10.3 points per game, and is No. in rebounds (6.3), field-goal percentage (63.8) and blocks (1.0).
• North Texas is 3-0 all-time against Creighton in Denton.
• North Texas allowed Creighton just 18 points in the first half, the fewest points the Mean Green have allowed in the first half this season and the lowest first-half output by the Blue Jays this year. This was the sixth time this year that North Texas has held an opponent under 30 points in the first half.
• Sunday's attendance was 4,227, the largest home crowd of the season.
The Mean Green close their home non-conference schedule on Tuesday, Dec. 23, against Prairie View A&M. Tip-off is 7 p.m. at the Super Pit.