Things seemed on the up-and-up for North Texas (9-14, 3-8 Conference USA) midway through the third quarter holding a 15-point lead over Alabama-Birmingham (16-8, 8-4 C-USA) until the Blazers finished the game on a 24-8 run. Despite being on top for the majority of the game, North Texas finished 0-8 on the free throw line including 15 points going to Alabama-Birmingham via turnovers in the 51-50 loss.
“[Alabama-Birmingham] moved to a zone defense and slowed us down in the second half making us take different shots than what was available,” head coach Jalie Mitchell said. “If we make just two free throws, we win the game. At this point, we just can’t afford to miss the free throws.”
North Texas approached Saturday’s matchup riding a three-game losing streak while the opposition in Alabama-Birmingham snapped a six-game winning streak after a loss to Rice on Thursday, Feb. 6. In five of the six games during the winning streak, the Blazers scored 70 points or more, including two games in the stretch with more than 90 points.
The Mean Green closed the first half with a 38-27 lead with senior post player Anisha George leading the way with 18 points, three rebounds and a field goal percentage of 75 (9-12). Freshman guard Randi Thompson finished the second half with 10 points behind George. North Texas held Alabama-Birmingham’s leading scorer Rachel Childress to six points at the half.
To start the third quarter, North Texas opened up scoring the first four total points of the second half expanding their lead to 15 points. The Mean Green shut out the Blazers in the third quarter with 4:52 remaining after Childress scored two points from free throws. After the 15-point lead, Alabama-Birmingham closed the quarter on a 13-4 run with North Texas still ahead 46-40.
North Texas held its lead nearly three full quarters since they were up 6-4 in the opening minutes of the game until the 7:59 minute mark in the fourth quarter. Childress shot 50 percent from 3-point land (3-6) in the second half, leading the Blazers with 13 points and seven rebounds.
“The defense played really well and bought into the plan all game except for the few minutes [Childress] got loose for a few 3-pointers,” Mitchell said. “Having only one day to prepare I thought we did a good job limiting their offense that averages 76 points a game.”
Trailing 50-46, North Texas managed to tie the game via a jump shot from freshman point guard N’Yah Boyd and a field goal by Shepherd in the paint.
The Blazers retook the lead 51-50 after Blazers guard Miyah Barnes made one of two free throws from a Boyd personal foul with 1:14 remaining. North Texas had one last chance to walk off winners when Mitchell called a timeout with 13 seconds left immediately after a Shepherd defensive rebound.
North Texas did not score in their final possession hoping to get an open shot after inbounding the ball with 0:00.2 seconds while Alabama-Birmingham previously knocked the ball out of bounds.
Alabama-Birmingham scored 15 from North Texas turnovers while the Mean Green scored 7 off of the Blazers.
George finished the day with 22 points, seven rebounds, two steals, one block. Thompson led the Mean Green in rebounds with eight, including 12 points and a steal.
Childress led the Blazers with 18 points, nine rebounds and an assist.
UP NEXT: The Mean Green stands in 11th place in the C-USA standings and prepares a three-game road stretch against Charlotte (15-7, 6-5 C-USA), Old Dominion (20-3, 10-1 C-USA) and Rice (16-6, 11-0 C-USA).
Featured Image: Freshman guard N’yah Boyd calls a play for the Mean Green against University of Alabama-Birmingham on Feb. 8, 2020. Image by Zachary Thomas