DENTON, TX – In one of its strongest defensive efforts of the season, North Texas controlled East Carolina’s three-point-fueled offense all night, but it was Jordan Williams’s shot block under the basket with six seconds to play that preserved a 53-51 win for the Mean Green Saturday night at the Super Pit.
North Texas held a five-point lead when two Mean Green turnovers in the final minute helped ECU close within 52-51 and give the Pirates possession with 14.7 seconds to play, but a drive to the basket for a potential go-ahead bucket by ECU’s Prince Williams was swatted away by Jordan Williams. The Pirates rebounded the ball, but missed a final shot.
“We made it a little tough on ourselves at the end,” said North Texas coach Tony Benford, whose team snapped a five-game losing streak and moved within a game of .500 on the season at 12-13, while improving to 3-8 in Conference USA. “It wasn’t pretty, but we needed it to get off the skid.”
The Mean Green frustrated the Pirates (13-13, 2-9) all night, holding ECU 24 points below its season-scoring average and allowing the nation’s top three-point shooter, Akeem Richmond, just two threes in nine attempts.
“Defensively, we were really good tonight,” Benford said. “We really played our
zone and were really effective. We talked about where (Richmond) was in the zone. When he enters your area, do not leave him.”
North Texas, meanwhile, got timely production from its own long-distance game. Vertrail Vaughns led the North Texas offense with 13 points, including three of the Mean Green’s five three-point field goals. A trio of threes, by T.J. Taylor, Vaughns and Brandan Walton, midway through the second half put North Texas up 50-38, but North Texas got only one more field goal – an Alzee Williams dunk – the rest of the way, giving ECU a chance to work its way back.
But the defense held up. From the opening tip, North Texas did a good job limiting ECU’s three-point shooters, who average more than eight threes a game. For the game, the Pirates made seven of 23 attempts from beyond the arc and shot 38.5 percent from the field.
It was a pair of Mean Green threes, supplied by Vaughns, that sparked an 8-2 run midway through the first half, giving North Texas a 20-14 lead. Richmond, after four misses, hit his first three late in the half to knot the game at 24-24 before Kelvin Gaines’s second bucket of the season sent the Mean Green to halftime with a 28-27 lead.