JONESBORO, Ark. (3/4/09) Defying all odds the North Texas women’s basketball team rallied from a seven-point halftime deficit and knocked off Arkansas State 80-74 in the opening round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament from the Convocation Center.
The Mean Green (11-19) entered the game as the No. 11 seed , found themselves down by as many as 11 points, playing without first-team all-conference forward Amber Jackson, but thanks to a 3-point barrage in the second half will move onto the Sun Belt Quarterfinals on Saturday night to face the Denver Pioneers at 9 p.m.
“This is a great win,” said coach Shanice Stephens. “We executed everything on the defensive side of the ball in the second half and outworked them on the glass and played like we know we are capable of.”
It was the backcourt for the Mean Green that answered the bell as Yari Escalera, Mansa El, and Brittney James all had double figures and finished the game with a combined eight 3-pointers. The trio finished the night with 45 points.
“Our intensity, our defense, and our rebounding was great in the second half,” said James. “We did everything that we had to do. I feel like we can go as far as we want to in this tournament if we play like we are capable of”.
Escalera had a game-high 18 points for North Texas as she started to heat up at the end of the first half with back-to-back 3-pointers to send the Mean Green into the break down just seven at 39-32. North Texas went on an 11-0 run keyed by 3-pointers by James and Escalera to take a 43-41 lead two minutes into the second half.
The two teams went back and forth for the next 10 minutes as the lead traded hands seven times during that stretch. Trailing Arkansas State (16-14) 60-58 with seven minutes left, the Mean Green made its final push. It started with a second chance bucket by Mimi Goodman and was followed up by a steal and a layup from Tricia Lee. North Texas continued the defensive pressure with two more turnovers on consecutive Red Wolf possessions and cashed in on both to take a 66-60 lead with five minutes to play.
“I felt like in the second half we got them on their heels and late we just wanted it more and that’s the kind of defensive effort we had to have.” said Stephens.
North Texas did not buckle down the stretch as they extended their lead to eight points at 70-62 following another Goodman put back for points. The nail in the coffin came with Escalera hitting a 3-pointer with 1:49 left to make it 73-64. North Texas took care of business at the free throw line to close out the win.
“This is really one of the most satisfying wins that I’ve been a part of,” Stephens said. “We have had such a tough season and to come out and play like this in the tournament, I couldn’t be prouder of what we were able to do out there.”
The win by North Texas snaps the Arkansas State six game winning streak and ends its own three-game losing streak. North Texas advances to face the No. 3 seed Denver Pioneers on Saturday night, March 7 from Hot Springs.