North Texas 66, Troy 63

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.