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Mean and Green in Diddle: North Texas 70, WKU 66

BOWLING GREEN, KY — The Grant McCasland era at North Texas has been marked by big wins against Western Kentucky. The league title game of course, but a couple of other big wins in Denton — to seal a league title — and the last two seasons winning in Diddle, a place where many a North Texas MBB team has come away with a loss. Mac and his teams have now won the last four vs this squad. Mac is now 4-4 overall vs Western, the first NT head coach to reach at least .500 vs the Tops.

This is the last time NT will play WKU in Bowling Green in league play and it has brought the best out of the two programs “We have a ton of respect for them. This is always been an important game for us in our journey. They don’t go away. They keep playing and playing”

We saw that again tonight.

North Texas came out with a purpose, executing the offense, smothering the Tops and building a big lead that eventually reached 19 points. “That’s what you do in preparation, the efficiency and understanding of how we were trying to play. We worked hard, involving a lot of people,” said Coach Mac. “We felt like this game we needed provide multiple ball screens with multiple players in order to create confusion and also to wear them down because we knew they had a limited number of players tonight”

“We wanted to be the aggressors coming out and I think it worked out for us,” said Tylor Perry after the game — he had 22 on 7/16 shooting.

The solid Bowling Green crowd was unenthused by their team’s but took their ire out on the refs, mostly. “Call it both ways!” or “Are you watching the same game as I am?” You know, the classics. There as a very midwestern nice shout by a wife “We don’t mean you we mean the other guy.”

North Texas had the Tops frustrated in both mood and in basketball terms. Davion McKnight, leading scorer and certified baller, couldn’t find space to do his thing, and tried lofting the ball over to Jamarion Sharp, the 7’5″ center. The ball fell harmlessly out of bounds as Abou Ousmane bulled Sharp for position. The E. A. Diddle Arena crowd protested. NT broke the other way. That was a good example of the first ten minutes. NT would do their thing defensively, suffocating the opposition, and Western would get beat by an extra pass, a back cut, or a Perry bucket.

It looked like a a blowout was coming but the Tops have pride. “They made a run, and we knew they would”, said Perry. “I thought they played as hard defensively, as I’ve seen”, said Coach Mac. After a timeout, Western huddled and came out defending hard and playing well. “They had some lineup changes and started pressing but they just gave great effort”.

NT still lead at half but only by eight.

The second half was more work, more grinding, and the kind of game that these two teams often find themselves in. “It kind of feels like this is what we do” Mac said, speaking about the history of these teams.

Then there was the huge buckets. Aaron Scott hit a gigantic three late, with Western clawing their way back. He finished with 11 points and 3 of 3 from distance. Yes, Aaron Scott. All in all, NT finished 42% shooting and with Jayden Martinez adding a perfect 2-of-2 as well. Perry had praise for his guys.

“Just work. Right after FAU the guys were really upset about that and immediately back to the gym and you know hard work pays off and I’m so proud of J Martinez, and for Kai getting back into his rhythm”

Mac said he wants more.

“Those guys worked really hard the last couple of weeks on finding rhythm and those guys have to be more aggressive. They are great players and they just got to be more aggressive and they look to pass too much. The more aggressive they are the more it helps our team”

It worked. NT held the team below their points-per, and held them below their FG% average. That’s normal for this squad. NT scored 70, that’s a bit abnormal. NT made Dayvion McKnight work early — that was part of the game plan, putting him in multiple ball screens to make him work defensively. But the kid is a great player, and managed 29 points despite it.

NT held on with some more clutch buckets, and more clutch free throws even if Western gave a hell of an effort to nearly pull the comeback.

“It is a great win on the road and we are looking forward to Saturday”, said Perry.

Notes on a Road Trip

This was MGN’s first trip to Diddle. Hank Dickenson, MGRN broadcaster on one-time MGN Podcast guest mentioned to yours truly that the crowd was smart, the arena was old, but nice, and it was a good place to watch basketball. This was all true. Walking through the hallways feels like going to class at an old high school. There are old wooden bleachers that retract near the top of the stands. Some have been removed to make way for suites and fancy spots. Western has a lot of history and they tell you about it (as they should). It is a little difficult to get out as I forgot the only way to leave is via the lower level.

I’ve been in worse arenas (ahem, Convocation Center in San Antonio). This place has charm.

Bowling Green is a pretty normal small college town. It also was a little frustrating trying to find something to eat near campus upon arrival. The family ate at Rafferty’s, a restaurant and bar about ten minutes away from campus. It was solid, and the people were friendly. I did not meet one unfriendly Kentuckian. Something about the blue grass I guess.

Next up is Middle in Mufreesboro (right outside of Nashville).

I’ll leave you with this extended quote from Mac, about Middle, about what they will do to prepare, and about what they need to do to win:

MGN: How do you prepare for Middle?

Mac: “The biggest thing is how do you recover? Thankfully its a short trip and we are jumping on the bus tonight. Nobody sleeps after the game anyway. We’ll just knock it out. We’ll hop on the bus, we’ll get there before midnight and get in the hotel and they can wind down on the bus and by the time we get to the hotel you are ready to sleep. They can sleep in, and we can start watching a little film of this after breakfast lunch and when we bring them back at 2pm we’ll devote all our attention to Middle Tennessee”

MGN: Tell the fans a little about what you’ve seen as a coach:

Mac: “They are one of the most athletic teams in our league. When you watch them play they got some experience, they change defenses, they like to press – especially at home they like to speed the tempo up. And you saw tonight we scored against the press some and we attacked it in transtion and got some layups when we stretched it. But we are going to have to score against the press. Can’t just hold the ball. They are too athletic and can switch too many positions. How do you stay in attack mode but continue to make the simple play. Ultimately it’s a game where we need to get Abou involved. This one is a tougher one because of Sharp”

MGN: I thought Ousmane played well

Mac: “Yeah! Other than just a few passes out when they were double teaming us. But we need to anchor ourselves on the road and get those paint touches adn thats one way we can get them and feel like that’s a big part of it. We like to play inside out. We practice shooting kicking the ball out and those are the threes that go in. We got some guys that are buying into the way we want to play.”

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