North Texas Daily

McCasland’s defense reaches new heights in third year

McCasland’s defense reaches new heights in third year

McCasland’s defense reaches new heights in third year
January 30
22:04 2020

One of the most important challenges when it comes to playing competitive sports is playing defense. Former Alabama football head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant once said “Offense sells tickets. Defense wins championships.” 

For head coach Grant McCasland, he’s preached playing defense at a high level since the start of the season. During his coaching tenure with the Mean Green, McCasland has seen defensive production come and go individually, but has never seen a full line-up as committed on the defensive end of the court like this year’s team.

“The efforts always been there with this group,” McCasland said. “The understanding of how you want to execute it has been individually solid but it’s never been as well communicated. Now you can see them anticipating what the other guys are supposed to do and communicating back and forth on what we need to do.”

Coming out of the off season, McCasland picked up several new players for his team. One thing they all had in common was their ability to play defense. Junior guard James Reese had 70 steals during his time at Odessa College. Freshman guard Jalen Jackson once had 10 steals during one of his high school games. While forwards Deng Geu and Thomas Bell are big-men known for their shot-blocking tendencies and being able to rotate onto smaller players.

“I really just come out everyday with the mindset that defense gets stops,” Reese said. “I know what it takes and defense helps you go far in the tournament. Our coaches told us that games are won by one or two possessions so defense is one of the most important things that we focus on. I take a lot of pride in it. We take a lot of pride in it.”

The team works on defense heavily during practice, mostly seeing and adjusting to different scenarios by the ball handler. They also work on their switches and on-ball guarding in the middle of the floor so they can communicate and handle ball screens. Redshirt sophomore guard Umoja Gibson believes defense is a top priority.

 “We’re mainly locked in on defense majority of the time during practice,” Gibson said. “We’ve been working on it since day one so it’s really starting to gel right now.”

Despite the Mean Green being 6-7 during non-conference play, the team was happy to see results early as they were in close games with multiple top teams in the nation due to the effort of the defense. 

With so many options to go offensively, it gave players plenty of comfort to focus on their defensive skills and let the game come to them.

“It starts at the top,” Geu said. “Coaches stress that it’s something we should use as our identity and not focus on the offensive end because we have really good scorers and very talented players. But if we can come out every night and go hard on defense, then it’s a really hard team to beat.”

After the Mean Green’s 67-64 win against Marshall, the team held it’s next five opponents to less than 60 points. The last time they did that was during the 1948-49 season. 

Trying to extend their streak to six against Texas-San Antonio, the team was faced with stopping junior guard Jhivvan Jackson, who entered the game averaging 25.7 points per game, which is second in the nation.

North Texas did not try to make Jackson their defensive focus. Instead, they wanted to play the same defensive approach they had been playing all season. Despite Jackson scoring 37 points, the team was able to win by 20.

“[Jackson]’s a great player. We tried a lot of different things with him,” Reese said. “Obviously he’s the number two scorer in the nation for a reason, but we contained the way we needed to. He still hit shots, but we did our job and we were able to come out with the win.”

Right now, the Mean Green are second in conference and  27th in the nation in scoring defense as they currently give up 62 points per game.

“If you want to play, you gotta get stops and I feel like everybody does that,” Reese said. “I feel like everybody on our team is just locked in on getting stops and that’s why our defense  is so great because everybody is on rotations and wants to stop somebody.”

Featured Image: Basketball coach, Drew Janszen helps team player Abdul Mohammed block an incoming opponent during practice on Jan. 28, 2020. Image by Bertha Angela Smith

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Deondre Jones

Deondre Jones

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