North Texas Daily

Men’s basketball blows double-digit lead, loses ninth straight game

Men’s basketball blows double-digit lead, loses ninth straight game

January 26
22:29 2017

Clay Massey | Senior Staff Writer

Searching for its first Conference USA win since March 5, 2016, North Texas squared off with the school it last beat in conference play – the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Things looked bright at halftime, as the Mean Green (6-14, 0-8) led by 14.

But as the story has gone so many times this season, North Texas floundered in the second half. Head coach Tony Benford and his squad were outscored 53-38 in the final 20 minutes.

Despite the first career double-double from freshman guard AJ Lawson, who had 23 points on 8-of-21 shooting and 12 rebounds, the Mean Green fell 82-81. North Texas blew the biggest halftime lead they held all season – all while extending its losing streak to nine games.

“We just couldn’t stop them,” Benford said. “If we had stopped them we would have won the game. But we just couldn’t stop them down the stretch.”

Charlotte had an even scoring effort with six players reaching double-digits. Freshman Jon Davis led the way for the 49ers with 19 points. Junior Austin Ajukwa countered Lawson’s efforts with a double-double of his own, scoring 13 points to go with 10 rebounds.

The Mean Green started just as they ended – slow.

North Texas was on the wrong end of a 10-3 run to open the game. The 49ers were hot from beyond the arc, making three 3-pointers in the first five minutes.

North Texas sophomore guard Ja’ Michael Brown drives the basket for a layup against the Charlotte 49ers. Colin Mitchell

The Mean Green began to answer with a couple threes of its own. Senior forward Derail Green sank two of his own before his teammates rounded out a 5-for-12 3-point shooting mark in the first half.

Then Lawson took over.

The freshman smelled blood in the water before going for 12 points and seven rebounds in the first half as he pushed North Texas to a 17-4 run to close the first half. The Mean Green led 43-29 going into the locker room, giving North Texas its biggest halftime lead of the season.

“I was struggling in the beginning of the game but they told me to keep going,” Lawson said. “We didn’t win. What I did wasn’t enough. If I made one free-throw we could have gone into overtime. Really I need to get into the gym and shoot free-throws because what I did tonight was not enough.”

Charlotte opened the second half with a 6-0 run before senior guard J-Mychal Reese hit a deep three. Reese stood out for the Mean Green in the second half and finished the game with 16 points.

North Texas had four players reach double-digits, with Lawson leading.

“I thought J-Mychal Reese had some good looks,” Benford said. “He was attacking also. We just have to keep working hard. Hopefully, we’ll break through soon.”

The two teams traded buckets down the stretch until Charlotte went on a 3:10 field goal drought. But what the Niners were lacking from the field, they made up for at the free-throw line.

Charlotte was lights out from the charity stripe and shot an astounding 90 percent.

“They’re a good free-throw shooting team,” Benford said. “They just have good shooters. If you foul them, they’re going to make their free throws. If we make our free throws we probably win the game.”

The Mean Green made just 65 percent of their free-throws in a one-point loss.

Next up: North Texas hosts Old Dominion University at 2 p.m. Saturday. The Monarchs defeated the Mean Green 55-48 in Virginia earlier in the season.

Featured Image: North Texas freshman guard A.J. Lawson (22) drives the basket against the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Lawson scored a career-high of 24 points. Colin Mitchell

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Clay Massey

Clay Massey

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