LAFAYETTE, La. (3/5/07) Two down, one more to go.
The North Texas men’s basketball team knocked off Middle Tennessee 59-52 to advance to its first Sun Belt Conference Championship game in its seventh year in the league.
The win is the 22nd of the season and ties the school record and sends the Mean Green (22-10) into a conference championship game for the first time since the 1995-96 season. North Texas will face Arkansas State in the championship tomorrow night at 8 p.m.
“I thought our guys did a phenomenal job tonight not only defending and on the boards,” North Texas head coach Johnny Jones said. “Playing without Kendrick Davis I thought we came out and did a great job of stepping up and filling the void”.
North Texas, playing without guard senior guard Kendrick Davis because of illness, got 15 points from guard Ben Bell and 11 points from Michael Sturns. Bell tied his career-high for the second straight game as the junior had 15 points in the quarterfinal win over Louisiana-Monroe.
Middle Tennessee (15-17) led only once at 2-0 as North Texas never looked back after gaining the lead. The Mean Green led by seven points at the break 29-22 and weathered numerous runs in the second half by the Blue Raiders.
The first came four minutes into the second half as Middle Tennessee closed the gap to one point at 32-31 with a 9-3 run. North Texas answered with seven straight points thanks to Bell and Sturns who scored all seven of those points.
The Blue Raiders had one more run to cut the North Texas lead to 46-44 with 6:15 left. A fast break for Middle Tennessee nearly resulted in a tie ball game, but Tim Blue missed a putback with less than six minutes to play. North Texas punished the Blue Raiders following the miss with seven straight points once again to extend its lead to 53-44 with 3:36 left. North Texas closed the game out from the free throw line.
Senior Calvin Watson had 11 points and moved into the top 10 in scoring all-time at North Texas.
“We have as good a chance as anybody,” said Jones. “We you get to this level you are going to get everyone’s best shot”.
North Texas is playing for its first berth into the NCAA Tournament since the 1987-88 season.