When the Mean Green are playing really close games, especially when they shouldn’t be after an 18-point lead, there is no better place to be than the Super Pit.
The arena exploded when Kai Huntsberry drilled a mid-range pull-up jumper to give UNT the lead with about four seconds, but it was somehow eclipsed when Louisiana Tech’s Cobe Williams missed a desperation half-court shot.
An audible sigh could be heard from the row behind me as the Mean Green escaped with the 67-65 victory, moving the good guys to 14-3 overall and 5-1 in Conference-USA play.
The game should never have been that close, though.
The Mean Green had an 18-point lead at the half, on the back of Tylor Perry and Abou Ousmane, who has been relatively quiet since his 37-point triumph against UTSA. The crowd felt comfortable, content with the idea of their team about to steamroll the boys from Ruston.
A 14-5 run by Tech in the first five minutes of the second half put the entire Pit on edge. Head Coach Grant McCasland had a pretty simple explanation of how La Tech was let back into the game.
“We missed a few layups to start the second half,” Coach Mac said. “We had a few shots at the rim, that we felt if they had fallen, could have given us some separation.”
The shots didn’t fall, and the Bulldogs consistently chipped away at the lead, getting it down to one point with less than seven minutes, but Tylor Perry added three free throws to give the Mean Green breathing room.
However, it was Perry who was a part of a sequence that truly opened the door for the Bulldogs to get back into the contest.
With less than a minute left, and UNT clinging to a four-point lead, there seemed to be confusion as Matthew Stone tried to set a screen for Perry. Perry was already set to go, and Stone tried to move to continue the screen and was whistled for the offensive foul.
It was an absolutely confounding turn of events, and certainly something you usually don’t see from this team.
Perry was emphatic on who to blame after the game.
“That was my fault, I should have kept the ball in the middle, and I kind of went baseline, messed Stone up, so that one is on me.” Perry said.
Free throws have been an issue at times for this team, and even though they shot 13/15 vs Middle, it reared its ugly head again as Ousmane miss two free throws that could have effectively ended the game.
La Tech was able to tie it with 18 seconds left, setting up a very anxious moment for everyone involved.
Everyone in the building, including myself, thought the final shot would be taken by Perry, but the coaching staff had a different plan.
Kai Huntsberry took the ball at the top of the arc, drove to his right, pulled up, and nailed the winning shot.
It was the ending everyone wanted, even if it would have been a whole lot nicer if they had won by more than 20.
At this juncture, though, it does not matter. The victory sets up an absolutely pivotal game on Saturday against FAU, not only for the C-USA standings but possibly for a potential at-large bid for the NCAA tourney.
Coach Mac really had only one thing to say about it though.
“Well, they don’t give the trophy out in January.”