John Lugo / Sports Editor
The Mean Green men’s basketball team got its first taste of Conference USA in a 74-64 loss against the University of Southern Mississippi Thursday night in the Super Pit.
UNT (9-6, 0-1) started slow and allowed Southern Miss (14-2, 1-0) to get a run early, building a 14-point lead at halftime. The Golden Eagles had the second best record in the conference and made it to the championship game last season, so the team hoped that this win could help make a statement to start off conference play.
“It’s very frustrating; that’s why we’re sick right now,” head coach Tony Benford said. “We had them right where we wanted them to be. We just couldn’t close it out.”
The team increased its intensity in the second half and shrunk the Golden Eagle lead to one with 9:24 remaining, but couldn’t get over the hump and take control. From that point, Southern Miss outscored UNT 24-15 to secure the victory.
“I think we just came out a little flat,” sophomore guard Maurice Aniefiok said. “We did a better job stepping it up in the second half, but we just didn’t make plays down the stretch to get us the game.”
Junior guard Jordan Williams led the Mean Green in scoring with 17 points and said little mistakes, like boxing out on defense and missing free throws, is what set off the balance to Southern Miss’ favor. Despite shooting 30.4 percent in the second half, the Golden Eagles were able to hold off UNT by making 20 free throws.
“We looked at [the second half] like it was 0-0 and tried to make a run,” Williams said. “I think we were very aggressive on defense too, other than being aggressive on offense, but we just had a couple mistakes that brought us down.”
Up next for the Mean Green is the Tulane University Green Wave (8-8, 0-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Super Pit. Benford said the key to this game will be defending Tulane’s guards well on the perimeter.
“They have really good guard play so we’re going to have to do a good job of containing those guards, contesting three-point shots and keeping guys in front of us,” Benford said.