EL PASO — The North Texas men's basketball team surged in the second half to beat the UTEP Miners 58-51, improving its historic start to 16-1 (4-0 C-USA).
The Mean Green, who have now won more regular season games this year than last year, trailed UTEP by as many as nine in the first half before they chipped away and tied the game at 22 at halftime.
In the second-half, North Texas improved its shooting by seven percent to build a 13-point lead midway through the second frame.
Late in the game, freshman Umoja Gibson
nailed two 3 pointers in the final two minutes to hold off a late Miners (5-9, 0-3 C-USA) run and secure UNT's eighth straight win, making North Texas the first team in country to 16 wins. Michigan also picked up its 16th win on Thursday.
"UTEP is a tough and physical team," said head coach Grant McCasland
. "Michael Miller
is a senior who really wants to win and his first few minutes in the second half were big for us and Umoja Gibson
, scoring all 13 of his points in the second half, he made some key bucket for us late. Those two guys play in the second-half was tremendous."
It took North Texas four minutes and 58 seconds on Thursday to get on the scoreboard but the Miners had already built up a six-point lead by that point. Then three minutes later that lead grew to nine as UTEP played with an upset minded high-energy.
"We had some good looks," McCasland said of the slow start. "They were the more aggressive team to start the game and you're not going to win the league if you start games like we did. Period.
"We know we didn't play our best but we found a way to win so there's some relief, but give UTEP credit," McCasland added.
North Texas is now just one of four times in the country that has won at least 21 of its last 23 games dating back to the end of last season. Michigan, Virginia and Buffalo are the other three. Along with big wins, finding ways to grind out games and pull out a hard-fought victory has also led the team on its current run.
On Thursday North Texas, who is the 12th shortest team in the country, dominated the paint in the second-half. They out rebounded the Miners 22-13 in the second-half and outscored down low a UTEP team that on average is two inches taller than the Mean Green.
And with North Texas' bigs locked up with UTEP's, the Mean Green also relied heavily on their guards to rebound, which they've done all year. Gibson and junior guard Ryan Woolridge
led the way with seven rebounds each.
"We know we played and beat a good, tough and physical team," McCasland said. "We need to do a better job executing but how we crashed the glass and guarded in the second-half was huge for us."