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Freshman A.J. Lawson shines in win over Hartford, gets men’s basketball back to .500

Freshman A.J. Lawson shines in win over Hartford, gets men’s basketball back to .500

Freshman guard A.J. Lawson drives the basket in transition against Hartford. Colin Mitchell

Freshman A.J. Lawson shines in win over Hartford, gets men’s basketball back to .500
November 27
17:19 2016

Youth prevailed Sunday afternoon in Denton.

On a team where 11 of the 12 currently eligible players have at least one year of college experience, the lone true freshman had a breakout game that lifted North Texas men’s basketball to an 81-78 win over Hartford.

A.J. Lawson posted a season-high 17 points on 5-of-10 shooting and led the Mean Green (3-3) in scoring. Along with getting timely buckets, Lawson also made several key defensive plays down the stretch, including a spectacular chase down block that brought a crowd of 1,566 in the Super Pit to their feet.

“A.J. is a confident kid,” head coach Tony Benford said. “We were fortunate to get A.J. He could have been in the Big 12. He made some plays for us and he’s going to be a really good player.”

Leading by one with under 30 seconds left, senior guard Deckie Johnson drove to the paint off a screen from graduate forward Derail Green. Green then popped beyond the three-point line while his man sagged off, so Johnson, seeing the wide open man, kicked it out to Green for the potential dagger.

He didn’t miss.

“The biggest thing was that we stayed together,” Green said. “The coaching staff and [the players] stayed on the same page, [and] to win close games that’s what you have to do.”

The Hawks’ (1-6) shooting kept them in the game, and almost won it for them. In the first half, the Mean Green struggled to keep track of Hartford’s shooters. The Hawks went 8-of-14 from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes and led North Texas 38-36 at halftime.

But while Hartford was hot, the Mean Green were hotter.

North Texas ended the game 13-of-22 from three-point range, and took advantage of the Hawks’ zone defense that dared them to shoot.

“We were kind of stagnant, just standing around and passing it around [in the beginning],” Benford said. “We ended up getting 20 free throw attempts then we made some shots to open it up a little bit.”

Five Mean Green players finished in double figures — the most by the team this year — and eight played over 18 minutes.

In the first half, the Mean Green coughed up the ball 10 times, which helped the Hawk’s take the halftime lead. In the second half, however, the Mean Green only had four turnovers with their guards controlling play on both ends of the court.

“Coach told us to slow the ball down and swing it,” Lawson said. “We were trying to force it a little bit, but when we keep swinging the ball people are going to get open and that’s what we did.”

North Texas’ 81 points was the most it has scored against a Division I opponent so far this year. With the victory, the Mean Green improve to .500 for the first time since the season began a little more than two weeks ago.

“I think it’s a very big win,” Lawson said. “I think this can carry over because in late-game situations like this we’ll be able to handle the pressure and handle the ball better.”

Next up: North Texas hosts Texas College at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

Featured Image: Freshman guard A.J. Lawson (12) drives the basket in transition against Hartford. Lawson had 17 points. Colin Mitchell

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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