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.