The University of North Texas has clinched a spot in the NIT Championship game.
The Mean Green came from behind to defeat Wisconsin 56-54 on Tuesday night in Las Vegas, holding the Badgers scoreless for the final 9:08 of the basketball game.
UNT trailed by 12 at the half and as many as 14 throughout the game. Moulaye Sissoko gave the Mean Green its first lead on a layup with 2:08 remaining as North Texas closed the game on a 10-0 run, earning its first 30-win season and 11th postseason win under the current coaching staff.
“Like I said a couple days ago, we’ve been in every situation in conference,” UNT guard and Conference USA player of the Year Tylor Perry told the media after the game. “So the experience and being here before, we can’t get rattled. We knew Wisconsin was a good team. They were going to make their run. We just have to stay us through the course of the 40 minutes, and that’s what we did tonight.”
“Like Coach Mac said,” Perry later added, “we knew this team wasn’t done after the conference tournament and we wanted to find a way to cut down nets and we knew the NIT could be the way to do it. We’re here, and it’s time to do it.”
“We’ve got to finish the job. I can’t explain the words right now or the feeling it would mean if we do cut those nets down on Thursday. It’s a feeling you really can’t explain, and so I wouldn’t want to share any locker room with any other team than those guys, and I want that moment for them.”
UNT (30-7) will play UAB (29-9) in the championship game, the fourth time the teams will meet this season. UAB won the most recent matchup, dashing North Texas’ hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament in the Conference USA semifinals.
UAB defeated Utah Valley 88-86 in overtime on Tuesday, guaranteeing that a Conference USA team will win the tournament. The conference also won the CBI (Charlotte) and has Florida Atlantic in the NCAA Tournament Final Four.
“I hate to quote Twitter because I’m sure it’s all fact-checked, but I think 17-1 or something like that, Conference USA in postseason play,” UAB head coach Andy Kennedy said when asked about the conference’s reputation after Tuesday’s games.
“That’s pretty good. For a one-bid league. I know North Texas, I heard Grant earlier, they are the highest net-rated team not in the field. I don’t know if you’ve heard about that program in Boca Raton, but they have done pretty good. So yeah, we’re proud of the fact that there’s good quality basketball. It was a Top-10 rated league and it’s been good from top to bottom, and now I think the nation is seeing that.”
The Mean Green will face the Blazers at 8:30 p.m. CT Thursday at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
A win would give UNT its first-ever postseason championship.