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Men’s basketball splits contests with Rice and Alabama-Birmingham

Men’s basketball splits contests with Rice and Alabama-Birmingham

Men’s basketball splits contests with Rice and Alabama-Birmingham
January 21
20:54 2023

Men’s basketball traveled to the University of Alabama-Birmingham and took home a 63-52 road win on Saturday.  

Alabama-Birmingham (13-7, 4-5) came into the game averaging 85.1 points per game. Leading Conference USA scorer and senior guard Jordan Walker did not play in the contest for the Blazers, the third-straight game he has missed due to injury.

Senior guard Kai Huntsberry was the game’s leading scorer with 19 points, and both senior guard Tylor Perry and junior forward Abou Ousmane scored in the double-digits. Alabama-Birmingham senior center Trey Jemison had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. 

“[North Texas] was committed to winning this game and getting stops,” coach Grant McCasland said. “Rebounding was the other thing — for as many shots as [Alabama-Birmingham] missed, to only give them 10 offensive rebounds was a stat that was huge.” 

The score remained close throughout the first half until North Texas (16-5, 7-3 C-USA) went on a 9-0 run topped off by a three from senior guard Tyree Eady with 2:48 remaining. Huntsberry hit a buzzer-beater three to give the Mean Green a 40-29 lead at the half. 

North Texas maintained a double-digit lead until a five-minute scoring drought brought Blazers within nine. Regardless, the Mean Green were able to bounce back and finish with a victory. 

“The togetherness that it takes to win is the most important aspect of handling tough environments and winning,” McCasland said. “These dudes are such great teammates, and they get so excited for each other.” 

Previously, basketball was unable to overcome a late run from Rice University as it took a 72-60 loss in the Super Pit Thursday night. 

In a game where North Texas once held an 11-point lead, Rice was what  McCasland called the “tougher team” as they went on an 11-0 run late in the second half. The Owls were led by junior guard Quincy Olivari, who scored 22 points and was 9-14 from the field on the night. 

“Looking at a couple big numbers – one, [Rice] out-rebounded us, and two, they had 32 points in the paint to our 20,” McCasland said. “Those are two categories where we usually are able to physically play the game in a way that puts pressure on people, and I thought they were the ones who put pressure on us.” 

The Mean Green entered the game giving up less than 55 points per game on average. The team gave up 72 points, the most since their 2021 NCAA Tournament Round of 32 loss to Villanova University.

The game started in favor of North Texas as it led 13-2 four minutes in, but the lead decreased to three entering the half. In the second half, Rice (14-5, 5-3) outscored North Texas by 15 points. 

“They came into our gym and out-toughed us, outplayed in front of our home crowd,” Eady said. “Rice showed their maturity. They made the tough shots, got the tough rebounds […] they were the more mature, more tough team, and they deserved that win.” 

After the strong Mean Green start, the Owls began to chip away at the lead and went on a 7-0 run with seven minutes left in the first half to bring them within one. Rice took its first lead with five minutes left in the half. It was a back-and-forth affair and finished with a 3-pointer from Perry to give North Texas a 31-28 advantage at the half.

Eady made his third 3-pointer of the night and was 3-3 from deep early in the second half as he lifted North Texas to a five-point lead. Senior forward Jayden Martinez hit a three to keep the team on pace, but Rice rallied back and eventually tied the game at 50 with 8:37 left in the game. 

“In the first half, we saw that our threes were hitting and we tried to continue that in the second half, but that just was not the case for us,” Martinez said. “We did not play good enough defense, we fouled a lot of shooters, and rebounding was a big thing.” 

The game was tied up seven times and the teams traded baskets for a stretch of time in the second half. It soon became a Rice-dominated game in the final minutes and the Owls’ win put them a half-game back from second place. As for the Mean Green, they still hold second place, trailing Florida Atlantic University by three games as of Thursday night. 

Going forward in conference play, McCasland said the team is not focused on records and standings, but rather continuing to improve and focus on each individual game. 

“Our goal is to get our team to be the absolute best we can be,” McCasland said. “I thought we showed a lack of composure tonight in a game where we needed to be physically tougher. That is where we are going to put our focus. The individual plays is how you try to figure out how to be better.” 

The Mean Green will take on the University of Texas-San Antonio (7-13, 1-9 C-USA) in at home on Jan. 26.  

Featured Image: Sophomore Guard Mathew Stone holds the ball during a pileup on Nov. 20, 2022. Photo by Marco Barrera

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Jillian Nachtigal

Jillian Nachtigal

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