North Texas Daily

Mean Green maintain similar focus entering Bonus Play

Mean Green maintain similar focus entering Bonus Play

Mean Green maintain similar focus entering Bonus Play
February 20
12:30 2020

Entering the season, North Texas was projected to finish seventh in Conference USA due to a tough conference finish the previous year and the loss of point guard Ryan Woolridge to Gonzaga. This season, the Mean Green had a 6-7 record going into their conference slate. However, the team finished with a 12-2 record in conference play, thus earning them the No. 1 seed entering bonus play.

“We knew who we had returning and we knew the guys coming in had a commitment and a passion for winning and for basketball,” head coach Grant McCasland said. “A passion for whatever you do in life is tested when it gets hard and this team was tested a lot, early by a lot of losses. We never questioned whether we would keep improving because they’re built for adversity.” 

This is the team’s first winning season in conference since joining in 2013. The Mean Green has not been above .500 in league play since the 2011-12 season when they were in the Sun Belt Conference.

North Texas will enter pod play over the next two weeks. Regardless of how a team does in pod play, they will remain in its respective group for the C-USA Tournament. The goal of pod play is to help build team’s resumes so they have a better chance of getting into the NCAA tournament.

Despite this new stretch of games coming up, the players are going into it with the same focus that was there all season.

It’s pretty much the same,” junior forward Zachary Simmons said. “We’ve come a long way this season but they’re all equally as important because if you don’t win the ones early, then you’re not in this position now. So, it’s more important to just go out there and stay to your principles while not letting it get to you.”

The Mean Green enter pod play as the No.1 seed and will play their first of four games in bonus play this Saturday against Louisiana Tech. Being a No. 1 seed means playing the No. 2 and No. 3 seeded teams at home.

“Definitely helps to have home-court advantage,” senior forward Deng Geu said. “We got Mean Green nation behind us and just having that support and having that environment. Last game they showed out and made a lot of noise, and it definitely helps down the stretch.”

In their previous matchup against Louisiana Tech this season, redshirt junior point guard Javion Hamlet drove the ball down the court and hit a game-winning floater as time expired to give the Mean Green a 51-50 win over the Bulldogs. It was the team’s first win in Ruston, Louisiana since 1952.

Louisiana Tech finished the season ranked as the top defensive team in the conference and 27th in the nation, allowing 62.6 points per game.

“Last game was a really good game,” Geu said. “So we know they’re gonna come in here with a lot of energy, so we just gotta be ready for that.”

The team will then travel to Florida International on Thursday, Feb. 27 to take on the Panthers. Florida International is one of the fastest teams in the country and features an uptempo attack ranking 35th in the nation in offensive possessions per game.

Meanwhile, North Texas is one of the slowest paced teams in the country that relies on taking good shots every possession. The Mean Green average 66.4 possessions per game, but they’re ranked in the top 10 in field goal and 3-point percentage, respectively shooting 48.7 and 39.2 percent.

The Mean Green will then return home on Sunday, March 1 to take on Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers are the only team North Texas hasn’t beaten so far this season as they were able to escape with a victory at home. North Texas hasn’t beaten Western Kentucky in 11 years.

“Western Kentucky is the only team in Conference USA I haven’t beat yet, so it’s time to go get one,” Simmons said. “We got up big going into the second half. Coming out of the half, they just got rolling and we didn’t stick to being who we were and playing the game we’re supposed to play, so they ended up coming back to beat us.”

North Texas will close out bonus play on Wednesday, March 3 when it takes on Charlotte. The Mean Green beat Charlotte 81-72 at home after making a late fourth-quarter run. The team nearly shot 6o percent from the field and had all of its starters in double digits.

Despite the conference success leading up to this point and the interesting slate of games coming up, junior guard Javion Hamlet believes it starts with this week and this week only.

“We just gotta keep winning and getting better,” Hamlet said. “We obviously have a great schedule in front of us and we’re gonna need our all and every player to step up big for us. We’re just looking at it one game at a time. Louisiana Tech is coming here Saturday, so that’s all we’re focusing on and nobody else.”

Featured Image: Redshirt junior guard Javion Hamlet sets up a play in practice on Feb. 18, 2020. Image by Zachary Thomas

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Deondre Jones

Deondre Jones

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