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North Texas 59, Middle Tennessee 52

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) -- Ben Bell scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half to help North Texas defeat Middle Tennessee 59-52 in the semifinals of the Sun Belt Conference tournament on Monday night.

Michael Sturns and Calvin Watson each added 11 points for the Mean Green (22-10), which advanced to the finals on Tuesday night against Arkansas State, which defeated Western Kentucky 80-73 in Monday night's other semifinal. It's the first tournament final for North Texas in its seven years in the Sun Belt.

One more victory would give North Texas its first NCAA Tournament bid since 1988, the only other time the Mean Green has been there.

Middle Tennessee (15-17), which stunned top-seeded South Alabama in overtime a night earlier, threatened to pull off another upset until North Texas pulled away with a 7-0 run inside the last six minutes.

After Tim Blue missed a transition layup that could have tied the score, Bell hit a straightaway 3 that made it 49-43. Keith Wooden then added a baseline jumper and a jump hook that made it 53-44 with 3:37 to go.

Middle Tennessee did not threaten again.

Desmond Yates led the Blue Raiders with 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting. He was one of only two players who made more shots than they missed as Middle Tennessee finished at 35.1 percent shooting.

North Texas guard Kendrick Davis, who averages nearly 14 points per game, did not dress because he had a stomach virus, team officials said.

The defensive-oriented tone of the game was set from the outset as no team scored for the first three minutes.

Middle Tennessee had its only lead of the game when Calvin O'Neil's jump shot made it 2-0. North Texas took the lead for good at 7-5 on Harold Stewart's jumper.

North Texas led by as much as seven several times during the opening 20 minutes as Middle Tennessee struggled from the field, hitting only 29 percent of its shots (9-for-31).

Sturns' jumper with 1:22 remaining in the first half put North Texas ahead 29-22, and the score remained that way into halftime after Justin Howerton's put-back at the buzzer was ruled to have left his hands too late.