North Texas Daily

Men’s basketball advances to NIT championship

Men’s basketball advances to NIT championship

Men’s basketball advances to NIT championship
March 29
01:52 2023

In its first National Invitational Tournament semifinal appearance in program history, men’s basketball defeated the University of Wisconsin-Madison 56-54 Tuesday in Las Vegas to advance to the championship game against the University of Alabama-Birmingham. 

North Texas held Wisconsin to no points in the last nine minutes of play as it completed a 14-point comeback win. The Mean Green are now 11-3 in NCAA postseason games in the McCasland era and picked up its 30th win of the year — the most in program history. 

“Man, we have got a tough group,” head coach Grant McCasland said. “We knew coming into this tournament that we faced great competition, and we were prepared and that’s a credit to Conference USA and the schedule we played.”

The Badgers jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first minute of the contest. Senior guard Tylor Perry hit two 3-pointers early, but Wisconsin’s sophomore guard Chucky Hepburn led the way for Wisconsin as it took an 11-point lead at the 8:16 mark. The game was the first time North Texas has trailed by double figures in the NIT play. 

Perry, who was named the C-USA player of the year this season, led all scorers with 16 points. 

“We knew Wisconsin was a good team — they were going to make their run,” Perry said. “We just have to stay us through the course of the 40 minutes, and that’s what we did tonight.” 

North Texas did not score for the final 3:26 of the first half as the Badgers took a 41-29 lead. 

Wisconsin was 15-1 this season when leading at halftime, but the Mean Green held the Badgers to 13 points in the second half, ultimately out-scoring them 27-13. 

Junior guard Rubin Jones scored with 2:38 to tie the game, and redshirt sophomore Moulaye Sissoko scored 30 seconds later to give the Mean Green the lead for the first time in the game. North Texas ended on a 10-0 run after holding onto its two-point lead through the final seconds. 

“I thought the last play was just kind of awesome,” McCasland said. “I mean, we walled them up, made them make an extra pass; walled them up, made them make an extra pass; then we had two guys dive on a loose ball and the game is over.”

Jones scored all 12 of his points in the second half to lift the team to its first-ever NIT championship appearance. 

“Coach always tells us, ‘toughest team wins,’ and we just stayed tough,” Jones said. “We’re stronger than anybody in the country I feel like.” 

McCasland said the competitiveness of C-USA has prepared them for the NIT. Five C-USA teams made it to the postseason tournaments, and they are currently 16-1 in postseason play. 

“A lot of quality coaches and great competition always makes you better,” McCasland said. “We played a lot of teams and […] just a lot of great players. We knew coming into this tournament that we faced great competition, and we were prepared.”

Going into the championship game, McCasland said the toughness of the group and the care they have for each other will be valuable. 

“Honestly I don’t think I’ll have to do anything differently than what we’ve done because these guys really believe in each other and they wanted to play,” McCasland said. “They wanted to keep playing basketball together. They do love each other genuinely.”

The championship game will be played on Thursday at 8:40 p.m. in the same location, the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

North Texas swept Alabama-Birmingham in the regular season but fell to the Blazers 76-69 in the C-USA tournament semifinalAfter defeating Utah Valley University in its semifinal matchup on Tuesday night. It will be the fourth matchup between the Blazers and Mean Green in the last three months. 

Perry said it would mean “everything” to win the tournament. 

“I can’t explain the words right now or the feeling it would mean if we do cut those nets down on Thursday,” Perry said. “It’s a feeling you really can’t explain, and I wouldn’t want to share a locker room with any other team than those guys. I want that moment for them.”

Image Source Mean Green Sports

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Jillian Nachtigal

Jillian Nachtigal

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