North Texas (8-3, 5-1 Conference USA) through its 11 games in the 2020-2021 season, is facing a turnaround on one of the best starts in program history after a (12-19, 6-12 C-USA) campaign in 2019-2020. In retrospect, 12 of the 31 games for the women’s basketball squad last season resulted in a final score within a two-possession game, where nine losses (seven against C-USA opponents) came under six points.
What changed the course however are the current sophomore players like N’Yah Boyd, Jazion Jackson and Destinee McDowell using their playing experience as freshmen to complement sophomore guard Quincy Noble, junior guard Destiny Brooks and junior forward Rochelle Lee (who redshirted in the 2019-2020 season).
“The losses from last season came on a lack of experience but you see how quickly it changed because the sophomore group really matured and they’re a big part of our game,” Head coach Jalie Mitchell said. “They bring a winning mentality every day and you add them to the mix of players who redshirted last season who are now playing, it’s the kind of culture you want.”
A close loss North Texas fell victim to last season was its final game during the Conference USA Championship tournament in a 71-67 contest. North Texas trailed by 19 points in the fourth quarter to the University of North Carolina-Charlotte until a 23-to-5 run by North Texas brought the game to within two points with two minutes remaining.
Charlotte was able to pull away with a win outlasting North Texas making late free-throws, ending the Mean Green’s season. In the loss, Boyd and Jackson combined for 25 points and 10 assists.
Approaching the new season, the veteran players are utilizing their experiences in close matchups and games with back-and-forth action.
“When we lost the games that were really close last year it’s something you do your best to improve upon and use as motivation to get better,” Boyd said. “This year it seems much different because we’ve been in those situations before and now everyone has experience for what it takes to come out on top.”
The first game North Texas found themselves in a neck-to-neck contest was against the University of Louisiana-Lafayette on an 83-74 win. North Texas trailed at the half and progressively was in a one or two-possession score lead or trail to the Rajun Cajuns in the fourth quarter.
The Mean Green midway through the fourth quarter went on a 16-1 run and closed out the nine-point win. Noble led an offensive charge with 30 points and Jackson with 14.
“A win like that early in the season is a sign of the young players’ improvement and having a mentality they can compete with anyone,” senior forward Madison Townley said. “Being mentally tough and staying disciplined when you’re tired late in those close games is what helps you win. There are times where you feel like you’ll pass out but that’s the most important time when you need to focus and want it more than the other team.”
In conference play, North Texas has four wins within 10 points. Also in four conference matchups North Texas trailed at some point during the fourth quarter and escaped with a victory.
“Game experience is something very invaluable,” Assistant coach Jamie Carey said. “Within the guard and point guard position [Jackson] and [Boyd] got a lot of experience as freshmen and they’ve played with comfort and confidence lately down the stretch, making their time last year pay dividends.”
Mitchell says she has confidence in the sophomore class’s career at North Texas through their performance this season. The NCAA announced all winter sports would grant an extra year of eligibility should athletes accept it – meaning Boyd, Jackson and Noble each might play three more seasons instead of two.
“When you look at how talented the sophomores are and their room to grow the sky is the limit on what they can accomplish in their careers,” Mitchell said. “The coaching staff and I are excited about their future and seeing things turning around this season.”
Featured Image: Mean Green head coach Jalie Mitchell cheers team on after a made basket against UTSA on Jan. 8, 2021. Image by Zachary Thomas