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Men’s basketball staring down C-USA tournament after historic season

Men’s basketball staring down C-USA tournament after historic season

Men’s basketball staring down C-USA tournament after historic season
March 09
13:00 2022

Following its second regular season title in three years, men’s basketball has shifted its focus toward winning the Conference USA tournament.

North Texas (23-5, 16-2 C-USA) clinched the regular season championship and the C-USA West Division’s No. 1 seed on Feb. 26 after beating Louisiana Tech University in the Mean Green’s final home game. Taking the top seed means North Texas will not play until the quarterfinals of the tournament on Thursday.

After closing out the regular season with five of seven games on the road, the team will have two extra days to prepare compared to the lowest seeds before its first contest.

“It helps to get a couple days to get our bodies right and get our legs back under us,” senior guard JJ Murray said. “We’re trying to make sure that we’re sharp and locked in.”

Boasting the top scoring defense among all Division I schools, the Mean Green allow an average of 55.6 points per game. As it currently stands, the mark would be the lowest in the history of C-USA. The previous best was achieved by the University of Memphis’ 2008-2009 team which allowed 56.9 points per game.

Last season, North Texas came in as a No. 3 seed and won four games in four days to take the tournament, clinching an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. North Texas defeated three teams with higher seeds during its tournament run, beating No. 2 seed Old Dominion University as well as No. 1 seeds Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky University.

“The expectation that you are going there to win it is important,” head coach Grant McCasland said. “It doesn’t really matter what other people think or where you are ranked. It’s your approach and the edge you have to go compete.”

North Texas is coming off a loss against the University of Texas-El Paso, its first road defeat of the season which snapped a program record 15-game winning streak. The Mean Green lost 70-68 while shooting 17-32 from the free throw line.

“Anytime you go on a run like we did then get beat […] it’s just a reminder that you aren’t invincible,” junior guard Tylor Perry said. “That game gave us a little punch in the face and I think it’s going to help in the long run.”

North Texas will play the winner of the game between the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and Rice University. At the time of writing, the game has not been played yet. The Mean Green beat both teams this season, going 1-0 against Charlotte and 2-0 against Rice.

The team has six players from last year’s squad, with nine newcomers. Murray said the players who do not have experience playing in a conference tournament need to have confidence in their role.

“Just be confident in your role and don’t do anything you haven’t practiced,” Murray said. “We’ve got to be locked in and execute what our coaches want us to do out there.”

In the lone matchup against the 49ers, the Mean Green won 65-51 after shooting 65 percent from the field in the second half. Charlotte finished the season with a 10-8 record in-conference. 

North Texas defeated Rice 75-43 at home and 67-44 on the road. The Owls have the highest 3-point percentage in the conference, hitting 38 percent of shots from behind the arc. In their two games against the Mean Green, Rice was held to a 21.4 percent and 23.1 percent beyond the arc. Rice recorded their lowest number of 3-pointers made in a game this season, nailing three in both games.

Perry said the team needs to concentrate on itself and stay level-headed.

“We know any court we step on we can win and we can lose against anyone,” Perry said. “We’re excited [and] ready to get there.”

With the release of C-USA’s season awards on Monday, North Texas had four players earn six different honors.

Perry won Sixth Player of the Year and First Team All-Conference while Bell took home Second Team All-Conference and was named to the All-Defensive Team. Murray was also named to the All-Defensive Team and Scott earned All-Freshman team honors.

Over the course of the 15-game winning streak, North Texas drew in some Associated Press votes to be ranked. After losing to Texas-El Paso, the Mean Green did not receive votes. The Mean Green’s first game is at 5:30 p.m. Thursday on Court A at The Star in Frisco, Texas.

“The only way we can play in the NCAA tournament that we can control is to win the [C-USA] tournament,” McCasland said. “We are not trying to figure out any other alternative. We’re going to try and win on Thursday.”

Featured Image: Rubin Jones sets up a play on Feb. 7, 2022. Photo by Kristian Freeman

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Tyler Luker

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