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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.