Louisiana Tech (20-7, 11-4 Conference USA) avenged last month’s buzzer-beating loss to North Texas (18-10, 12-3 C-USA) by winning Saturday’s game to begin Bonus Play. Senior guard Daquon Bracey’s final stretch plays gave the Bulldogs a 73-71 victory over the Mean Green.
“Give Louisiana Tech a lot of credit,” head coach Grant McCasland said. “That was a real finish … there were two good teams obviously competing in a game that came down to the wire last time … came down to it again and they made baskets. We couldn’t guard them and that’s what it boiled down to.”
After being down 16-12 early, North Texas went on a 10-0 run. The team was able to convert on many offensive possessions in transition due to Louisiana Tech’s full-court press.
With less than four minutes to go in the first half, junior guard Javion Hamlet found success from the 3-point line on consecutive possessions to give the Mean Green a 36-25 lead, their largest of the game.
It was a big first half for Hamlet as he scored 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
Unfortunately, Louisiana Tech was able to apply some defensive pressure and make a run of its own to trim the deficit. The Bulldogs had the momentum going into the half after a buzzer-beating layup by senior forward Mubarak Muhammed.
The Mean Green entered the half outshooting their opponent 53.6 percent from the field compared to the Bulldogs’ 40.9 percent. But North Texas shot 3-of-12 from the 3-point line, despite finding several open looks.
Coming out of the half, North Texas continued to struggle from beyond the arc while Louisiana Tech came out firing from deep. Senior guard Derric Jean and junior guard Amorie Archibald along with Bracey made a lot of contested 3-pointers, some of which came right as the shot clock expired.
It remained a one possession game in the final 12 minutes of play and was a back and forth battle between both teams.
A goaltending call on Muhammad’s layup attempt gave the Bulldogs a 50-49 advantage, their first lead since the beginning of the game.
Later, with the game being tied at 54, Louisiana Tech came out of a timeout with two seconds remaining on the shot clock. Despite being heavily contested, Archibald was able to drain a 3-pointer from the left corner as the shot clock expired.
“I don’t feel like it affected us,” junior guard James Reese said. “They’re a great team and they’re gonna make tough shots because they’ve got good players, but we could’ve won this game plenty of different ways other than them hitting those crazy threes.”
On the ensuing possession, Hamlet drove to the paint and was fouled, sending him to the line for two free throws. After hitting both, Hamlet held onto his right leg as he went to the sideline to get checked out. He soon returned to the game in order to fulfill his role as a closer for the Mean Green.
After a 3-pointer by Jean put North Texas down 60-56, Hamlet was able to feed a nice lob to junior forward Zachary Simmons, who finished the layup attempt to make it a one possession game. Simmons finished the game with six points, eight rebounds and four assists to go along with two blocks.
Hamlet scored six points on the Mean Green’s three ensuing possessions to give North Texas a 64-62 lead with 2:34 remaining in the game.
Hamlet finished the game with 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting to go along with three rebounds and four assists. However, he shot 5-of-7 from the line tonight despite entering the game shooting 90 percent in conference play.
With less than 2 minutes remaining, Hamlet and Bracey challenged each other for the final stretch.
Bracey converted on 3-point attempts on consecutive possessions to give the Bulldogs a 68-65 lead. Hamlet was able to counter on the next possession, driving inside and dishing it out to Reese — who converted on the corner 3-point attempt to tie the game.
Reese had 10 points in the second half and finished the game with 16 total.
Bracey was able to sink a heavily contested shot to give Louisiana Tech a 70-68 lead. But Hamlet followed that by calling for a pick by Simmons to clear the inside. He then drove to the paint and got the bucket and the foul. He hit the additional free throw to give North Texas a 71-70 lead with 24 seconds remaining.
As time winded down, Louisiana Tech gave the ball to Bracey, who drove down to the right side of the basket and delivered a contested driving shot attempt while getting the additional free throw, which he missed.
Bracey led all scorers with 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting.
Down 72-71 with 1.1 seconds remaining, North Texas had to go full-court length in order to win the game.
The team tried to throw a lob attempt downcourt to Simmons, but the forward wasn’t able to get his hands on it, thus giving the Bulldogs the ball back with no time taken off the clock.
Freshman point guard Jalen Jackson fouled on the inbound play and sent Bracey to the line with 0.4 seconds remaining. Bracey hit the first free throw, then purposely missed the second and secured the rebound, giving the Mean Green their first home conference loss of the season.
North Texas came into the game as one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the country, but finished 4-of-22 from beyond the arc.
Hamlet later said he landed on his shin, but regardless, he faults his play rather than the injury as to why the team wasn’t able to come out on top.
“I put the blame on me. I missed two free throws and we ended up losing by two. I don’t normally miss free throws,” Hamlet said. “Defensively, guarding Bracey down the stretch was just on me.”
Update: After a buzzer-beating win by Charlotte over Western Kentucky, North Texas remains in first place in C-USA standings.
UP NEXT: North Texas will have some time to regroup before they travel to face Florida International on Thursday at 6 p.m.
Featured Image: Redshirt sophomore Umjoa Gibson dribbles past a Louisiana Tech defender on Feb. 22, 2020. Image by Zachary Thomas