MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (1/19/02) The most impressive thing about the play of senior guard Nicole Thomas in a 74-72 North Texas (11-6, 5-2) win over Middle Tennessee (9-9, 2-4) Saturday night was not that she scored 16 points, but that two of those 16 points were clutch free throws with five seconds left in the game that sealed the victory for the Lady Eagles.
“That’s when you like to have a senior team,” said North Texas head coach Tina Slinker. “Nicole stepped up and very calmly knocked down both free throws.”
After six ties and 13 lead changes, the Lady Eagles took a 51-49 lead at the 14:50 mark of the second half and held on to that lead until the Lady Raiders tied the game at 72-72 with 29 seconds left in the contest. Without a shot clock, the Lady Eagles were able to take their time down the court for a final shot and shortly after they initiated their offense, Thomas was fouled with five seconds remaining and with MTSU in the double bonus, was given two free throws.
“I tried to stay calm and I was thinking to myself no pressure’,” said Thomas. “Fortunately, I was able to collect myself after the foul and make the free throws.”
After the successful trip to the charity stripe, North Texas called a timeout. Following the timeout, the Lady Raiders got off one final desperation shot from just beyond halfcourt that bounced off the back of the rim without any time left on the clock.
“We wanted to put some pressure on them so they couldn’t just roll the ball in bounds,” said Thomas. “We showed zone, but came out in a man-to-man defense after they inbounded the ball so they wouldn’t get anything easy.”
The Lady Eagles victory coupled with a 78-77 Western Kentucky overtime win over Denver gives North Texas sole possession of first place in the West Division of the Sun Belt Conference with a 5-2 league record. The Lady Eagles defeated Denver on Thursday in Denton and have now won their last two conference games in a row and four of their last five league outings.
“This is a good win for us,” said Slinker. “I thought we came out a little flat, but I have to give Middle Tennessee credit. They played tough and fought hard through the entire game.”
Senior forward Jalie Mitchell led three North Texas players in double figures with 21 points. Mitchell has now scored at least 20 points in all seven of the Lady Eagles conference games. Thomas followed Mitchell with 16 and Stephenson had 15 points to go along with seven rebounds. Sophomore Kim Blanton led North Texas on the boards with a season-high eight rebounds. UNT outrebounded MTSU 46-45 and shot 38 percent from the floor in comparison to the Lady Raiders .349 percentage.
Middle Tennessee punished North Texas at the free throw line, hitting 25 of 33 attempts. The Lady Eagles converted 17 of 23 free throws.
North Texas returns to Denton for a two-game home stand, facing UL Lafayette on Jan. 24 (7 p.m.) and New Mexico State on Jan. 26 (7 p.m.).