MURFREESBORO — “That’s just how we practice” said Coach Mac. He was talking about the effort and work and toughness that the team displayed in the comeback win. “We came out flat. But I just think we kinda of got out of rythym without Abou out there and us subbing a bunch. It took about 10 minutes to kind of settle in, and challenged them after that eight minute media (timeout). It felt like the guys were just at that point were like ‘We are going to compete’ you know.”
Middle Tennessee, coming off a buzzer-beating loss to UTSA on Thursday came out of the blocks hot. They jumped all over North Texas early, getting to loose balls, fighting over screens, getting in passing lanes and well, doing what North Texas does to other teams. They scored 37 — the most allowed by North Texas in a first half this season. Middle got to the line, Dishman would bully his way inside, and Teafale Lenard and others were getting hustle points of second-chance stuff.
“They were much more physical than we were to start the game.” said Coach McCasland.
Rubin Jones said “They were beating us to all the loose balls, being physical, being active in gaps”
Middle would challenge every dribble drive, either wrapping up any NT attack dribble, or bothering it enough to have NT looking for a foul call, or just messing with the rhythm.
How does a squad overcome such effort by the opposition you might ask? Well, they said it was just belief in and old standby: It is a 40-minute game.
“Coach writes on the board every game – game is 40 min” Jones said. Aaron Scott: “We know it is a long game — 40 minutes and we are just saying ‘Stick together for 40 minutes’ and we ended up with the dub.”
How about the guy who writes that on the board? Mac:
“That’s why I write on the board it’s a 40 minute game. Because it really is. You can come out there do what we did at the end of the night and play well, but eventually good teams are gonna respond”
Middle was getting the benefit of the calls because of their physicality, getting to the line a ton and drawing charges. It was all going their way. North Texas chipped away, with the hustle plays and hustle work that they get from practice.
“Some people don’t practice like that. We feel it’s the only way to prepare yourself for these types of wins. To win the games you gotta win you have to play hard every possession, and so we practice hard every possession in practice.” said Mac.
Middle figured they were not going to let Tylor Perry get loose, and denied him the ball. Perry finished with 11, after scoring 22 on Thursday. Kai Huntsberry had to do some ball-handling, but it was Rubin Jones and Aaron Scott that came up huge with big-time buckets. Mac credited Rubin Jones’ effort, “Truthfully, at that point, I thought Ruben in the first half was the difference. Like his his energy was the difference in the first half.” Jones finished with 13, Scott with 10.
“Ruben in the first half was the guy that jump started our team and really provided the penitration and the defense that we needed”
Late in the second half, when the game was seemingly at 43-43 for the 12th consecutive minute (the halftime score was 37-31) Aaron Scott had a Kobe-like pull up jumper from the baseline to put NT up two.
“A Scott at the end of the game had those two back cuts in the second half, had that pull-up jumper on the right side. And his defense was really big. A Scott was the guy that was able to really add the physicality to it at the offensive end.”
“Lot of work. I’ve been working on my midrange – on my finishing. Everything,” says Scott.
He showed all of that in the second, scoring all ten of his points in the final period. It was his defense and effort plays that stood out the most. There was one moment where NT was maybe too effortful — three NT guys looked to come up with a rebound and the ball fell to MTSU’s Camryn Weston. He looked like he was going to get an easy bucket.
“I thought Weston had a wide open layup” said Mac.
Weston did too. Aaron Scott seemingly manifested himself out of the very atmosphere, blocked the leather out of the ball, and won possession for his squad.
“From my angle I didn’t even see A Scott and he comes around the baseline and goes and blocks it. Reminds me of Thomas Bell, he used to do that kind of stuff.” said the coach.
Aaron Scott said “I got good length, I got good feet. I can guard 1-4 and I just use my length and try to be as versatile as possible.”
Rubin Jones was the key to the first half spark, and Scott did the work in the second, and both came up big late. Jones got the game-sealing steal and dunk late that ended it all. “Back to basics, just got to run and go get it” Jones said of the play.”
North Texas escaped with a tough win that built on the basics. The little things. Abou Ousmane who struggled early with foul trouble, had huge moments defensively and even smaller ones that do not sho w up on the box score. Middle’s Eli Lawrence had a rhythm three off a back cut late. Jones said “he had been cutting and going through, but he popped out off the screen there. Abou saw him and closed that out.” Ousmane chased him off the line and Lawrence hit a short corner jumper but that small effort of saving a point matters.
McCasland: “It’s the extra effort it takes to run people off the line when you know that’s what you gotta do. And then all those charges we took were big. You get all those charges down there on that end and then those are fouls that lead you get to the bonus, and then we’re in the double bonus and Ruben makes the free throw and you get the second one. All that stuff is cumulative and makes a big difference in the final score.”
So it did.
Notes On A Road Trip
North Texas is now 13-3 overall and 4-1 in conference.
This is the 5th straight win over Middle.
This is the second-straight win at the Murphy Center. The last time they played in the arena they won 75-70 (2/6/20). UNT had never won two in a row at the Murphy Center and improved to 3-9 all-time at the arena.
This was the first time North Texas beat WKU and Middle Tennessee on the road in consecutive games.
The Murphy Center is a big square, but inside there is an indoor track. It is green. The bleachers are pulled back into wall-like barriers that hold the inside bowl. It can feel at once cozy and yet cavernous. After the game MGN Family ate at Toots, and got some hot wings with Nashville hot sauce. That was pretty mild in my estimation. My wife says “They taste sweet.” It was a good time.
MGN has now been to each end of Tennessee — the west and east for football (Memphis, and Knoxville) and the very middle for hoops. The geographic center of Tennessee is apparently on Greenland Drive just north of the Murphy Center, according to a sign. I wanted to get a picture of the sign but Mrs MGN looked at me and said “We are parking. It’s cold and you need a jacket”. So we didn’t get a picture.
Fun fact: MGN HQ is in St. Louis, MO since 2022, which is also being my house, which was built in 1907. Middle Tennessee State University was founded in 1911.
MGN stayed in Nashville, which is a great town. It gives off Austin vibes, with a little of other places I’ve been too — a little Dallas, Frisco, LA, Atlanta. One of the MGN children said “We’ve been to a lot of places, dad, but they kind of look the same!” In responding to me noting the pleasant cleanliness of Midtown Nashville, my kid said “Well, I did see a bottle with an orange top on the street.” Seems people have been littering. Noted. We do not miss a thing, folks.
MGN compromised his journalistic ethics and took a pic with the squad and the coach at his insistence. MGN apologized for saying anything bad about anyone on the site, ever 😉
Next up: La Tech and then a return trip to FAU.