North Texas Daily

Lawson steps up to lead Mean Green to first Conference USA home win

Lawson steps up to lead Mean Green to first Conference USA home win

January 25
22:46 2018

When Florida Atlantic University needed a basket with under two minutes left in the game, guard Justin Massey looked at North Texas guard Ryan Woolridge and went to work. He attacked and settled for a free throw line jumper that Woolridge contested well to force a miss.

Woolridge grabbed the rebound and began to push the pace as usual before head coach Grant McCasland stuck his hand out and told the sophomore to slow it down — but it was too late. The highlight play had already materialized in Woolridge’s head as he saw a wide open Zachary Simmons sprinting the floor closing in on the rim.

Woolridge lobbed the ball to the basket perfectly in position for Simmons to catch it and finish with a dunk. The result was an electric two points and a collective roar from the Mean Green faithful.

McCasland wasn’t happy with the quick triggered pass at the time, but the Mean Green held on for a 59-53 win at home Thursday night and Woolridge’s trust in his teammates paid off again.

“I just had confidence in him,” Woolridge said. “He was catching all my passes [in the game] so I felt like he was going to catch that one.”

The win stopped a skid of four losses in the last five games for North Texas (10-10, 4-4) and was the team’s first conference home win of the season.

“This was huge for us,” McCasland said. “We’ve struggled and lost our last two here at home and we just needed to get a win. I thought the crowd was tremendous and the energy was great.”

The story of the game was the Mean Green battling the Owls’ (9-11, 3-5) defense, which ranks among the best in Conference USA. To make matters more difficult for North Texas offensively, sophomore guard Roosevelt Smart picked up three fouls in the first eight minutes of regulation, which forced him to sit the rest of the first half.

Then Smart only played 13 minutes in the second half after picking up his fourth foul with 16 minutes remaining.

This forced sophomore guard A.J. Lawson to step up and attack the basket more than he has for the majority of the year. Lawson almost doubled his season average with 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting while constantly putting pressure on the Owl’s defense.

“I just wanted to be more aggressive,” Lawson said. “Mac was telling me to attack the basket and not be afraid of going in there. I’m trying to get away from being so passive and fading away from contact.”

Smart ended the game with just four points and never found his groove.

But Woolridge did get into a rhythm, scoring the teams first four points before finishing the game with 12 points, seven rebounds and seven assists despite missing three minutes in the second half with a leg cramp.

His game changed as well with Smart out for almost half of the game.

“[Smart] is a big threat from the 3-point line so with him out it limited space and attacking lanes,” Woolridge said. “In the first half I was being really aggressive but in the second half they started trapping randomly and making adjustments.”

Simmons also had a solid outing for McCasland with 10 points and eight boards in 25 minutes.

With Smart’s quiet night, the team shot 3-of-12 from 3-point range but adjusted and attacked their way to 34 points in the paint. Finally, the Mean Green outrebounded Florida Atlantic 43 to 32 in the win.

“It wasn’t pretty,” McCasland said. “Their disruption and their length gave us problems. The key [for us] was to continue to be aggressive and attack downhill and with Rose out that was definitely a big part of what we wanted to do.”

Next up: North Texas stays at home to face the other Florida school in C-USA, Florida International University on Saturday at 5 p.m.

Featured image: North Texas sophomore guard AJ Lawson shoots the ball in a conference match against Florida Atlantic University on Jan. 25 at the Super Pit. The Mean Green defeated FAU 59-53. Sara Carpenter

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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