North Texas 66, Troy 63
HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP)—Josh White drove to his left and headed toward the basket, where the 5-foot-10 guard could have easily disappeared amid all those taller defenders.
Then the North Texas junior stopped and tried his luck from near the free-throw line. The shot went in, and the Mean Green are headed to the NCAA tournament.
“I was going all the way to the hoop the whole game, and unfortunately they were blocking my shot,” White said. “It’s a matchup zone, just one-on-one at the top, and I just drove in and I pulled up. I knew he was going to lay off. He thought I was going all the way to the basket, so I just pulled up.”
White’s shot with 22 seconds remaining helped North Texas to a 66-63 win over Troy on Tuesday night in the Sun Belt tournament championship game.
The Trojans rallied from an eight-point deficit in the second half, but White’s shot broke a 63-63 tie, and the Mean Green earned their third NCAA tournament bid.
Brandon Hazzard drove to the basket trying to tie it in the final seconds, but George Odufuwa blocked the shot and the ball went out of bounds off Troy. White was fouled with 2.9 seconds remaining and made one free throw. After he missed his second attempt, Troy’s Michael Vogler tried a desperation shot from midcourt that wasn’t close.
Second-seeded North Texas (24-8) has won 11 straight and snapped a seven-game winning streak for top-seeded Troy (20-12).
Eric Tramiel led North Texas with 20 points and was named the tournament’s most outstanding player, but it was White who made the biggest plays down the stretch.
“He can pull up for that jumper, because he knows they’ll try to block it if he goes in for a layup,” Tramiel said. “I just had the confidence that he’ll make it, and he made it.”
Hazzard scored 15 points for Troy, including two free throws with 53.4 seconds left that tied the game. The Trojans will at the very least be headed to the NIT—they can receive an automatic bid to that tournament because they were the No. 1 seed in the Sun Belt.
“I think it’s a blessing that we still get the opportunity to play basketball,” Hazzard said. “We’re just looking forward to it.”
North Texas won the Sun Belt tournament for the first time since 2007.
Troy led 40-38 after a fast-paced first half that included 12 lead changes and six ties. The Trojans shot 55 percent in the first half, but they couldn’t keep North Texas off the free-throw line. The Mean Green, who entered averaging around 20 points per game from the line, were 11 of 14 in the first half.
Troy missed 12 of its first 13 shots in the second half, allowing North Texas to make the game’s first critical run. The Mean Green scored seven straight points, including two baskets by Tramiel and a 3-pointer by White, to go ahead 51-44.
The Trojans made it to the title game with an effective zone defense, but they had a hard time solving North Texas’ zone in the second half. White gave the Mean Green their biggest lead with a 3-pointer that made it 59-51, then pointed toward the fans in one corner on his way back on defense.
“We had to make some adjustments at halftime because they were really scoring at will,” North Texas coach Johnny Jones said. “We dropped back in a 2-3 zone, took away their rhythm in a sense, and they became just a straight jump-shooting team.”
Troy fought back, and Hazzard’s 3-pointer cut the deficit to two at 61-59. Although he appeared to hurt his right ankle on the play, Hazzard was able to keep playing. Yamene Coleman then scored inside to tie it at 61.
Tramiel tipped in his own miss to put North Texas back ahead, but Hazzard tied it from the free-throw line with under a minute left.
North Texas held Troy without a second-chance point for the entire game.
“If you had to pick out one big difference in the game, they just outrebounded us from the beginning of the game to the end of the game,” Troy coach Don Maestri said.