North Texas Daily

Men’s basketball defeats Alabama-Birmingham to win its first NIT as McCasland era ends

Men’s basketball defeats Alabama-Birmingham to win its first NIT as McCasland era ends

Men’s basketball defeats Alabama-Birmingham to win its first NIT as McCasland era ends
March 31
15:10 2023

With a narrow lead and a National Invitation Tournament championship title on the line, senior guard Tylor Perry sunk a 3-pointer with 23 seconds left to play in men’s basketball’s 68-61 win over the University of Alabama-Birmingham Thursday night. 

The championship win continued a four-season streak of championships for the program as they came off three consecutive Conference USA titles. While North Texas was unable to take home a C-USA title this season, it was still able to keep the streak alive by claiming the team’s first-ever NIT championship title. 

It means everything, man — I can’t put it into words, this feeling,” Perry said. “You can never explain what it feels like to win a championship, cutting the nets down. And to be able to do it with this group, it’s unbelievable. We in the history books forever.”

Perry was named the 2023 NIT most outstanding player after leading the team with 20 points, five steals and three assists. Over the five games in the tournament, Perry put up 103 points.

“I know it was a lot of rah-rah about the Player of the Year and who it should have been and I felt like a lot of people wrote me off and felt like I didn’t deserve it,” Perry said. “This is definitely a statement, and I wanted to prove tonight that I feel like I’m the best player on the best team with the best teammates and the best coaches.”

Shortly after the game, McCasland’s departure to Texas Tech University was reported. After his last game with the Mean Green, he expressed his gratitude to the team. 

“What a remarkable day,” McCasland said. “Such a blessing, and it’s God’s blessing to be around these guys every day. You get to the end and you always hope you get to play in the last game of a tournament, and the hard work of the staff and these guys is what put them in this position.”

This was the fourth time the Mean Green faced Alabama-Birmingham this season after a matchup in the C-USA semi-final where the Blazers came out on top. At the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, North Texas emerged victorious in the final matchup between the teams, winning the season series 3-1. 

It was a game of runs as the Mean Green opened on a 10-2 run and started 4-4 from the field as junior guard Rubin Jones and senior guard Kai Huntsberry each hit a 3-pointer. The Blazers, led by senior guard Jordan “Jelly” Walker with 21 points, then went on an 11-0 run to take a three-point lead. Walker scored nine of those 11 points. 

North Texas retook charge as an 8-0 run gave it back the lead midway through the first half. The Blazers came back within five, but the Mean Green ended the half on a 7-0 run as they held Alabama-Birmingham to no points in the last 3:59.

North Texas led 37-27 at halftime. 

The Blazers outscored the Mean Green 14-4 in the first five minutes of the second half to tie the game at 41. Alabama-Birmingham took a four-point lead with 10:44 left, but a score from Huntsberry and a three from Perry put North Texas back on top. 

Huntsberry led the team in scoring with 21 points and was named to the NIT all-tournament team. He said the bond with his teammates and their encouragement fueled the effort that won the game.

“Throughout the whole year, coach has been getting on us about our huddles, and in our huddles we always keep encouraging each other,” Huntsberry said. “I fouled on a three-pointer, and they weren’t like, oh, come on, pushing me down. They were just holding me up and saying, ‘Come on, Kai, you got it,’ and that’s what we’ve had throughout the whole season, and I can’t be more grateful.”

Walker’s free throws put the Blazers back on top one last time, but another Perry three gave the Mean Green a lead they would not surrender. Consecutive scores from sophomore guard Aaron Scott lifted the team to a six-point lead. While Alabama-Birmingham managed to get back within four with 49 seconds remaining, Perry nailed a three over Walker to end the game. 

In what is McCasland’s final game at the helm of North Texas, he won his 155th game at the university and will finish his time in Denton as the second-winningest coach in Mean Green history.

“Coach [McCasland] walks in every day and tells us to love each other — I mean, love can take you a long way when you really believe in each other,” Perry said. “It shows that we’ve got to believe in each other, serve each other and compete for each other because it’s not about you. It’s about the next man standing next to you.” 

Image Source Twitter/@MeanGreenMBB

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Jillian Nachtigal

Jillian Nachtigal

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