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.
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.