North Texas Daily

Men’s basketball takes on Conference USA tournament

Men’s basketball takes on Conference USA tournament

Men’s basketball takes on Conference USA tournament
March 09
10:00 2023

Coming off a record-breaking regular season, men’s basketball will begin the Conference USA championship tournament on Thursday at the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco for the chance at an automatic NCAA tournament bid. 

North Texas (25-6, 16-4 C-USA) won the C-USA tournament two seasons ago, going on to upset Purdue University and advance to the second round of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament. In a season where the Mean Green topped their regular season wins record, head coach Grant McCasland said he is optimistic going into this week. 

“Ultimately, what you’re excited about is your team’s connected attitude towards winning,” McCasland said. “That to me is where it needs to be. You don’t know if the ball goes in when you’re out there playing in the first game, but you can overcome some adversity in difficult games that everybody is excited about winning. This team loves each other and really wants to win.”

The team clinched a first-round bye with the No. 2 seed. North Texas will face the winner of the first-round contest between Louisiana Tech University (14-7, 7-13) and Florida International University (14-17, 8-12). The Mean Green swept both teams in the regular season. 

Louisiana Tech defeated North Texas in the semifinal round of the 2022 tournament. Senior guard Tylor Perry said both teams in the potential first round matchups are very good teams that they will not take lightly. 

“We can’t dwell on last year — it’s just about being who we are, not worrying about anything else and sticking to what we do every day,” Perry said. “We of course wanted to win the regular season championship, but we didn’t get that done. Now it’s time to go dancing, and we just have to take it one day at a time.” 

In its final regular season game last Saturday, North Texas defeated Western Kentucky University in a 34-point win. The separation late in the game allowed minutes for a variety of players, and McCasland said the depth of the roster is key in tournaments.

“I feel like the depth could be what makes us great,” McCasland said. “We’ve been preaching that it’s going to take everybody. We really believe it.”

McCasland said tournament situations are difficult due to the high amount of intensity in a short amount of time. With everybody healthy on the roster, he said it is important to have everybody ready to step up. 

“The journey is to win three games in three days, but the goal is to win the first one,” McCasland said. “Having the mindset that you have to be prepared for anything is key. It’s a positive that we’re prepared with everybody in case there is a need.”

Perry has been an integral part of the team this season, leading the team in scoring with an average of 17 points per game. He shot 42.6 percent from three, tallying 89 made 3-pointers this season. On Tuesday, Perry was named the C-USA Player of the Year. 

“If you’re still playing for something this time of year, it’s exciting, and I’m just happy to be in the position we are,” Perry said. “[This season] has been stressful, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. These coaches, my teammates and the fans here in Denton have treated me so lovely.”

Leading the team in rebounds with an average of 6.1 per game is junior forward Abou Ousmane. McCasland said when Ousmane has a great game, the team does too. The team is ranked No. 1 in scoring defense, and McCasland said Ousmane is a pivotal part of that.

“What he’s done more so than just offensively is be a tremendous defender,” McCasland said. “I think the core of our defense is best when he’s on the floor. Just being able to have him anchor us on the defense is really important to our team’s success.”

Ousmane said he knew coming into his third year he would be more of a leader on the team and has embraced that. 

“Coming back to this school, I wanted to feel that leadership role,” Ousmane said. “That type of weight on my shoulder, I feel like it’s just going to help me get better as a person and a player. I’m really just trying to be as locked in as I can be and as present as I can this week. ” 

If the team advances past the matchup with Florida International or Louisiana Tech, they will play in the semifinal round on March 10 at 2 p.m. The final will be March 11 at 7:30 p.m. 

Featured Image Junior guard Rubin Jones sizes up a defender versus Western Kentucky University on March 4, 2023. Matt Iaia

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Jillian Nachtigal

Jillian Nachtigal

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