North Texas edges Troy 66-63 for Sun Belt bid

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.