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North Texas vs Tech: 2020 Bonus Play

North Texas hosted Louisiana Tech in the first game of this year’s bonus play, the latest reason to hate the league leadership inappropriately. These teams are two of the best in the league not only in standings, but in play. NT came in leading the league in offensive efficiency, according to Kenpom, while Tech was third. Tech boasts a ferocious, athletic (as all good defenses are) defense that hurt NT late in the last meeting.

This game was the best this league had to offer: two incredible playmakers in Javion Hamlet and DaQuan Bracey making tough shots at the end of the game for their squads.

Bonus play will determine some seedings but North Texas was always going to have to win a tough game in the league tournament to get a championship. In the last game, NT overcame a relatively poor game to steal a win. In this one, they had an advantage but just came up short.

There are no moral victories that will satisfy the team, but this is one of those that should make you, the fan, feel god. Tech is a good team and has a really great defense. NT fought and nearly pulled out the win. Javion Hamlet was super clutch, and that big bucket to put NT ahead was the kind of play a championship-winning team will need.

One concern we had all season was the team’s inability to generate the right kind of shot late. Hamlet has been amazing getting into the lane and putting pressure on the defense. Here, his 25 points came on 7/13 shooting and 5/7 from the line.

He was only outshone by Bracey’s 26 and an off-hand floater.

One thing to note about Bonus Play is that Tech, FIU, WKU, and Charlotte are good teams and losing to any one of them is not a failure on the Mean Green’s part, but something that can and maybe will happen. That is the nature of this pod play set up.

NT hosted the 3rd place team, and now will travel to the 5th placed team (FIU) on Thursday. They will host Western (2nd) before traveling to Charlotte (4th) to end it. The 49ers upset Western on Saturday.

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MBB: Rice Upsets NT in Houston

North Texas was expected to go to Rice and handle business. The thing about basketball is that it is a rhythm game and NT would be coming off a week-long break. Rice, after all, was on that same week-long break but at home.

Things like this happen in this game and we should not read too much into this loss. There were mistakes made — missed reads, missed shots, bad possessions and some confusion on defense. There were also some good things — good shooting, a little comeback, and some clutch plays toward the end.

NT got the looks they wanted for a good portion of the game but was not making them. Rice got themselves some good looks and made them. They also had a little more luck — a missed shot at the end of the possession falls into Javion Hamlet’s hand and he knocks it out instead of grabbing it, for example.

Short version: I don’t know that we make too much of this game beyond that NT still has some things to work on. There is another mini-break before traveling to Murfreesboro and then Birmingham. NT drops to 14-9, 8-2 and into a tie in the loss column vs LA Tech. NT of course has the head-to-head advantage over Tech by virtue of the buzzer-beating win on Jan 18.

NT shot well but had a slow first half start. They scored 34 in the first and 41 in the second. Rice had 44 and then 40. NT pulled ahead late but let it slip, with some missed shots and turnovers. Rice hit their catch-and-shoot threes and NT missed theirs in the last four minutes or so.

Zach Simmons was not as crisp, missing a bunny late. DJ Draper and Mo Gibson had 18 each. Hamlet had 15.

Notes: James Harden was in the house. There was a nice little crowd.

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North Texas Bests UTSA In Both Women’s and Men’s Basketball

In San Antonio, Jalie Mitchell’s squad cruised to a 79-55 win in a game played at 11am. In Denton, Grant McCasland’s group dominated UTSA at home while celebrating the 2009-2010 Sun Belt Champ squad led by Johnny Jones.

WBB cruised all game. UTSA cut the lead to 15 late but that was about all they could muster. Jalie said “there isn’t much to complain about.” True dat.

The men dominated throughout although Jhivvan Jackson got his team within five midway through the second half. NT responded to the run, and pulled away for a bit win. Honoring the 2010 team was a good moment and a nice link to the last time NT MBB were yearly contenders.

UTSA men is a terrible defensive team and NT took full advantage. Umoja Gibson had 27, and Javion Hamlet got 22. NT worked Jackson in the pick-and-roll early and often and made UTSA work. Jackson was able to put up some numbers but NT kept them at a distance, forcing him to get in the paint and pull up from distance with a hand in his face or from the logo.

Basketball always favors the offense, and the goal of defense is to force low-percentage shots and not necessarily prevent makes. It is a mitigation strategy. If he is going to make them from that distance that is a win for the defense. NT dominated and continues its dance around the top seed in the league. There is plenty of basketball to play so no one should get comfortable, but right now the team is playing really good basketball.

It is okay to smile.

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MBB: North Texas 79 Rice 59

The Mean Green moved to 6-1 in league play after beating Rice in the trappiest of trap games. They escaped Ruston with their first win there since 1952 in dramatic fashion. This game against a lowly Rice squad had the potential to be a let down. Instead, the squad had control throughout before breaking it open in the second half.

That is something that good teams do and right now NT sure looks like a good team. The things that this team struggles with were not game-changers in this one, and that is a welcome relief. Rice could not hang with NT long enough to make the late-game execution be a big deal.

North Texas hosts the dangerous UTSA Roadrunners on Thursday and UTEP on Saturday. Both have glaring flaws but also are very dangerous. UTSA’s Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace are flamethrowers while UTEP is one of the more talented teams in the league. The Miners came back from 24 down against UTSA last Wednesday and nearly repeated the feat in the return trip to San Antonio the following Saturday.

This NT team has the tools and the talent to compete and everything is clicking well enough to be very hopeful. There are plenty of things to work on, and that is exciting. This team can be even better and that is awesome.

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North Texas Beats Tech 51-50 in Battle of CUSA Leaders

The Mean Green were ready for the moment in Ruston, jumping out to a big lead, with some crisp offense and their typically tough defense. This was typical of NT in conference play, where they have been at the top of the league in efficiency offensively and strong defensively even if slightly undersized.

The Bulldogs came in as a top-60 opponent, and this win is a feather in NT’s cap in a season that has seen McCasland’s group play some tough competition strong until the end. Even in the lone conference loss to super-talented WKU (although missing Bassey) they played tough until getting out-executed in the end.

This game saw something similar. NT withheld a surge from Tech and briefly lost their lead. NT went to Zach Simmons for some clutch buckets in the middle of the second half until Tech wised up and changed up their coverage to disallow easy entry passes to him.

After Jacolby Pemberton made a free throw to make it 49-48 North Texas with 4:09 left in the game, no one scored until Amorie Archibald’s layup over Zach Simmons with 5 seconds left in the contest. He was fouled but missed the free throw. NT inbounded and Javion Hamlet drove the length of the floor to get a floater off at the last possible instant — this was reviewed –and scored the winning bucket.

The review went on for ages, and there was no clear view on the broadcast that could say definitively either way. The Thomas Anderson Center scoreboard operator refused to adjust the score even after the referees announced the decision and NT came away winners.

Offensive Execution

North Texas struggled against the harassing Tech defense late, again, something that is commonly seen. North Texas had trouble running clean sets either through miscommunication — McCasland screaming the play to the ball handler or yelling instructions to a given player on his intended responsibility — poor passing, or just bad reads.

The fact that NT can run the offense crisply at times indicates this is just a familiarity problem. They can run their sets sharply when they know what to expect, but adjusting on the fly and reading the defense is still a work in progress.

North Texas got a big buckets from Gibson, Simmons and of course Hamlet when it counted and that is what it takes to win. Someone needs to make the buckets and everyone needs to play great defense.

Yes, The Defense

The defense was incredible, with Zach Simmons defending all over the floor. One reason teams do not like their big men going to challenge shots on the three point line is that that leaves no one to rebound inside. NT has played with smallish lineups for two seasons and still manages to get huge rebounds. NT defended and rebound. Unfortunately, the one time they blew a coverage — allowing Amorie Archibald to get middle on the screen-and-roll — was the biggest moment. Before that they forced Tech into tough looks and one-shot possessions for four clutch minutes.

In the end, NT is at 5-1 in league play after beating one of the toughest teams in this league. Charlotte was previously undefeated in conference play but dropped their game in Bowling Green this afternoon.

NT gets a day break before hosting Rice on Monday and then UTSA on Thursday.

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North Texas Loses Big to WKU, 67-51

All seasons that do not end with a trophy presentation end badly. For North Texas, who this time last year was feeling much better about itself and its program, this was a doubly bad game.

In some ways, however, it was a relief.

“We had some guys playing with some things that you wouldn’t believe. It’s inspiring, that leadership” said Zach Simmons in the post game press conference debrief.

McCasland said “we had our sights on the NCAA tournament” so this is it barring some fluke of a Selection Sunday.

North Texas basketball finishes 21-12, one win better than last season’s CBI tournament team and six losses better to boot. It most ways, it was a better year than last. Why does it feel so devastating? Well, the terrible finish to the year, after a 20-4 start, NT fell seven straight times.

Tonight, they fell to the better team. Grant McCasland blamed himself in the post game, crediting the Western Kentucky defense and their game plan to deny entry passes and make things difficult.

WKU coach Rick Stansbury said they focussed on Umoja Gibson in particular, limiting his touches and “not letting him get 7 threes tonight.”

The game plan worked for Western.

North Texas struggled in the first half. At the 7:50 mark, Roosevelt Smart had just travelled and WKU led 22-8. This was not about the effort or even the energy level. It was about talent and defense.

WKU defended everything well. They denied the ball and the next pass and the on-ball stuff that NT was killing FIU with. They denied entry passes and swing passes and NT was travelling and double-dribbling because they had to make second and third moves to create space.

Grant McCasland said “we got sped up.”

The Mean Green made a little run with a little over a minute left in the half to get something going. The crowd, ready to celebrate anything positive jumped on that and began a North/Texas chant. Simmons scored a tough bucket and then the defense forced a WKU turnover.

Rick Stansbury, WKU coach, was upset and called TO. NT couldn’t convert but that got the energy up. NT forced another stop — a shot clock violation — that got Stansbury as red as the uniforms.

“When North Texas cut it to 13 we got five straight to make it 18 and they never threatened after that” said Stansbury in the post game press conference.

It was true. Tavieon Hollingsworth was finding space in the midrange and pulling up for clutch jumpers. He had 23 on 9/15 shooting.

In the end the half ended in stark contrast to last night’s first half. Instead of Ryan Woolridge hitting a three-quarter court bucket, he was stripped of the ball as time expired. NT was down 31-16 at that point, shooting 25% in the first, turning the ball over 11 times.

WKU had shot a mediocre 38% with 6 turnovers of their own during that period.

North Texas played Western 35-36 in the second half, to little progress. The first half deficit was too much. Ryan Woolridge had 13 and Jordan Duffy had 11 to lead NT. Gibson added 7 and only went 1/7 from distance.

Zach Simmons had 8 and 13 against future NBA-er Charles Bassey, who only had 9 and 8 himself.

What It All Means

Grant McCasland was noticeably devastated after the game. The last half of the season was full of injuries and poor play. The roster is kind of a weird mix, and McCasland deserves credit for getting this short team to out-rebound and defend really well.

The offensive end has a nice one-two punch in Ryan Woolridge and Zach Simmons. Unfortunately, the spread attack went limp too often. DJ Draper’s 3PT % dropped to 36% from 42% while making just over half his total from last year.

Roosevelt Smart went from a 36% gunner to a 27% guy and his offensive rating went from 110 to 86.

Was it injuries? Mental focus? It is difficult to say but it is McCasland’s job to know and change it. Still, whatever quibbles the fan base has with this program are just that — quibbles — given the tremendous progress this team has made in just his two years at the helm.

It is easy to see a future where NT is one of the favored teams in Frisco, but it is a long way before NT has a program the calibre of Western Kentucky, a basketball mainstay for decades.

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North Texas Women Lose To Rice 61-43

North Texas lost in the quarterfinal round to Rice 61-43 and it was the slow, inevitable kind of game against a superior opponent that happens. Though the venue is a ‘home’ one, the crowd was light on green and had a good sprinkling of Rice fans.

The early start didn’t help, and the grinding game that NT succeeded with against Southern Miss got away from them late, as the Owl found easy buckets from their 6’9″ center Nancy Mulkey and star Erica Ogwumike.

North Texas got good contributions from Madi Townley and her smooth midrange jumper — she was 5/9 for 11 pints and 8 boards.

NT tried to attack the big center through Deja Terrell and Charlene Shepherd with some success. Ultimately, a friendly Rice whistle and lack of length combined to do them in.

Mulkey was able to get easy layups to kill runs or draw fouls to stop momentum. While NT forced her out of the post a couple times and into turnvoers — travelling violations — she did enough blocking of shots or bothering or challenging NT player drives to keep NT from scoring comfortably.

When she sat, NT could not take full advantage. Terriell Bradley, the senior scorer for NT, did nto have one of her typical games. She missed a layup after taking on the whole Rice squad and getting into the lane.

Her midrange game was short all night, perhaps on account of playing just yesterday. All told, a good portion of the performance can probably be attributed to the game yesterday. It was hard-fought, and there was only a short break.

Two straight years with at least one tournament win for Jalie Mitchell in the Frisco version of this tournament.

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North Texas Dominates FIU 71 – 57, Moves on To Play WKU in CUSA Tournament

Zach Simmons dominated.

The big NT center said this week “they won’t beat us three times.” It seemed like the kind of thing teams say to motivate themselves, but it was really just prophecy, apprently. Simmons dominated from the jump, getting buckets and finishing around the rim — not missing a shot all night.

FIU had nothing for that, and well, nothing for the aggression shown on the offensive end by all of NT’s starting five.

Whatever ills befall NT in Florida do not happen on the trip from Denton to Frisco. NT capped off a fortunate first half with a 3/4 court heave from point guard Ryan Woolridge.

Simmons had 17 in the first half and only needed the 2 in the second. FIU went on a run but played North Texas evenly the rest of the way. It was 28-all at the 4-minute mark of the second half.

FIU pressed throughout, but frustration was obviously taking its toll. Devon Andrews missed an open three and shook his head in annoyance. Brian Beard Jr. and Willy Nunez Jr. argued about a bad pass that went out of bounds.

Meanwhile, the NT bench was ecstatic, seemingly releasing pent up frustration of the last 7 games: all losses.

NT moves on.

Umoja Gibson tied the tournament record for third place with 7-threes made in a game. He went 7/15 for 21 points and had 4 assists. Michael Miller had huge, timely buckets to end runs or break slumps with his drives to the bucket.

On one possession, Ryan Woolridge danced with the ball, drove and kicked it to Umoja Gibson, who attacked on the pump fake. He then passed to Miller who attacked on the catch and scored in traffic.

It was the kind of offense that this team has been sorely lacking. The 71 points were the most scored against any team not named Marshall since Feb 2nd vs Charlotte.

It was certainly more than NT managed against FIU in two games — 59 and 58 in two losses in the last month in Miami.

For FIU, it was all too little too late. Brian Beard Jr., the dynamic point guard, was aggressive and attacking all night but could not get anything to fall. The Panthers outscored NT in the 2nd half by three but that was not nearly enough to overcome a woeful first half.

North Texas is moving on to take on a rested WKU. The scouts and WKU team officials watching the game could be heard cheering on the relentless FIU press, “keep pressing, ha.” The energy expended by the NT squad late to beat the press and keep the game will take a toll.

For now, no one cares. NT is a winner for the first time since February 7th against Marshall. It is good to be green tonight.

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North Texas Women Advance, Beat Southern Miss 49-46

North Texas women’s basketball is on to face Rice in the next round after beating USM 49-46 in the first game of the first round of the women’s tournament in Frisco.

This year’s basketball tournament began on a cold and blustery day, and perhaps as cliche as that can sound, it is nonetheless true.

The women had a good performance last season, beating Charlotte and Louisiana Tech in upsets before losing to eventual winners WKU. They began this year’s contest against Southern Miss, something like an evenly matched squad that finished just one seed higher.

The first quarter was ugly — as might be expected from two teams playing at 11am. That’s a rec-league basketball time, not tournament level stuff.

The second-period was all NT — they took a nice 26-14 lead to the half and it was through Charlene Shepherd and Terriell Bradley that they did it. The calm, bucket-getting Bradley made some tough shots even though she was upset with some of the hacking USM was doing. Shepherd had 7 in the period to go with an assist and three rebounds.

Both Bradley and Shepherd visibly complained to refs about what they thought were fouls throughout the game. It was rough and chippy, and the referees let them play on despite it.

The third quarter was all USM’s Shonte Hailes. Through floaters and jumpshots, she single-handedly pulled USM back. NT held on to a one-point lead after being outscored 21-10 in the quarter.

NT shot just 30% in the quarter, missing shots and turning the ball over. Anisha George missed two layups and rolled her eyes in disgust at her own performance. She was consoled by her team afterward.

NT got good looks and had chances but just could not make them or take advantage of them.

The fourth began the same way. Missed shots from Owens and Deja Terrell — on a break, from a nice pass from Smith. USM did not have all the luck either, with Megan Brown turning the ball over underneath her own basket unguarded.

With 7 minutes left it was 37 – 36 NT, and Bradley checked back in. Both team struggled for a while. The game changer wasnt wearing 23 however. Velma Mtichell and Trena Mims both hit huge buckets. Mitchell hit a three on her first touch after checking in, and Mims drew three fouls for six freebies.

She wasn’t perfect from the line, but that aggression slowed the game down and got NT good looks and allowed them to set their defense.

With :40 left and NT clinging to a two-point lead courtesy of Terriell Badley’s two free throws, Charlene Shepherd fould Shonte Hailes. Hailes hit her head on the floor after falling awkwardly and left the game. USM missed the second of two free throws and that but got the rebound.

The furious 30-seconds that followed saw a layup missed by USM, a rebound by Leaphart, a block and finally a UNT rebound by Shephard.

Bradley was fouled on the ensuing possession and drained both. NT up 49-46 with just :07 remaining. Both threes from USM were off the mark. NT won.

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NT Loses in LA Tech 66 – 53 in Pod 2 Opener

First of all, let us apologize for the paucity of updates on this here site. There has been much in the way of life stuff and so MGN has suffered.

Count me among those that though the break since the last game was good. NT was and is banged up and any days to recover mentally and physically from these last couple of weeks is good. Ryan Woolridge was not on the court tonight, but Duffy and Jamie Simmons were.

NT jumped out to a nice lead in front of the quiet crowd (quarter break for the Louisiana Tech folks) until midway through the second half. The Bulldogs have been really good at home, but terrible on the road. They were always likely to jump back into the game and they did that and more.

The offense had a glaring Woolridge-sized hole in it when it came to handling the ball late, and calming the offense some. Even if it was simply generating offense by itself. This blog often commends the guy for his ability to get to the rim at will — seemingly — and that trait is not shared by many on the current roster.

In sum, Tech got back in this game by being aggressive on defense and that leading to relatively easy buckets on the other end. Often, they would get a steal, or a rebound and push the ball. Even in half- court sets they would attack the rim with abandon. The refs were a little Louisiana-kind but that kind of thing is what makes road games difficult.

NT was always slower attacking the rim but got a couple of iffy calls themselves — that Duruji foul on Simmons’ three point shot? That was a bailout call. The call was right, but NT was taking a poor shot.

Simply put, NT could not find offense from its main guys while Tech could. Smart, Draper, Duffy, Gibson, Zach Simmons all looked like they could use a guy to set them up for some easier looks down the stretch.

Defensively, it looked like NT was beat to the rim and to rebounds. It is really easy to call those effort mistakes — mental or physical — but without having been in the game planning sessions all week we cannot call anything out in particular.

We can try to interpret what we saw, and that was that Tech was making NT think on offense and then taking off to the races when they got it. Basketball is a lot of rhythm and over-thinking is one way to lose quickly.

Stats-wise, NT and Tech flipped — NT shot 50/29 percentage in the respective halves. Tech shot 29/51 in theirs. NT had 12 second-half turnovers to Tech’s 1. Again, sprinting at the rim and getting layups is one way to not turn the ball over.

North Texas hosts FAU this Thursday on CUSATV. The Owls lost to FIU at home in a close game 79-76.

NT is now 20-8 and 8-7 in league play.