North Texas Daily

Men’s basketball locks down Blazers in road victory

Men’s basketball locks down Blazers in road victory

February 08
22:32 2018

With the clock ticking under a minute left in regulation, the University of Alabama at Birmingham wanted to go to its best player for a much-needed bucket in senior forward Chris Cokley.

Blazers’ freshman guard Zack Bryant attempted an entry pass from the right wing into Cokley, but in one swift move North Texas freshman forward Zachary Simmons jumped in front to swipe it and take it away.

UAB eventually cut the Mean Green lead down to five at one point, but North Texas held on to beat the Blazers 67-60 in Thursday night in Birmingham.

Cokley entered the game averaging 18.5 points and 9.4 rebounds, but was held to 12 points and seven boards on 3-of-8 shooting.

“We made it hard on Cokley all game long and give Zach Simmons credit, he was the MVP of our team this game,” head coach Grant McCasland said. “[Zach] didn’t score much, but his defense and his ability to keep the ball out of Cokley’s hands completely changed the game.”

The defensive effort from the Mean Green (14-10, 7-4) overwhelmed UAB (15-10, 6-6), resulting in North Texas jumping out to a 12-0 lead. The Blazers’ first bucket did not come until the 12:33 mark of the first half.

UAB finished the game with a field goal percentage of 37 and shot just 3-of-25 from 3-point range.

“From a defensive game-plan perspective, our coaches have done a tremendous job getting our guys ready,” McCasland said. “A good team like [UAB] is going to score, but from a defensive standpoint, it was one of our best efforts.”

The Mean Green were able to keep UAB at an arms length throughout the game, countering any run they made in the second half until it was too late.

North Texas led by double-digits from the 15:05 mark in the first half to the 3:29 mark in the second half.

“Good teams don’t give up big leads,” Simmons said. “We compete at the highest level every time we get out there and we’re always playing as hard as we can, so that helps a lot.”

This was the first time since 2014 the Mean Green won a conference game in wire-to-wire fashion.

The leading scorer in the win was the usual suspect, sophomore Roosevelt Smart, who scored 18 points on 6-of-18 shooting. Smart was a plus-16 for his team in 38 minutes of play, meaning in roughly two minutes without Smart, the team was outscored by nine.

The second leading scorer was sophomore DJ Draper who scored 16 points on 4-of-7 3-point shooting.

This contest was a matchup between the five and six seeds in Conference USA going in, making the win even sweeter as conference play enters the straightaway.

“It was a big win,” Simmons said. “[We wanted] to keep that momentum going and try to get as high of a seed as possible in conference.”

The win is also the team’s fourth in a row, with their next opponent being Middle Tennessee State University who enters as the top team in C-USA.

The main concern that showed up Thursday night was cramping issues to two starters in sophomore guard Ryan Woolridge and junior guard Allante Holston. Besides that, McCasland believes his team is ready for the test.

“Honestly we just have to get fluids in us and we can’t have the problem of cramping,” McCasland said. “I know our guys will respond and are excited to get back on the court Saturday and go prove ourselves.”

Next up: The Mean Green look to continue their win-streak against Middle Tennessee on the road Saturday at 5 p.m.

Featured image: North Texas freshman forward Zachary Simmons (24) shoots the ball against Florida International. Rachel Walters

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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