North Texas Daily

North Texas basketball off to great start in hopes of winning C-USA championship

North Texas basketball off to great start in hopes of winning C-USA championship

December 03
18:42 2018

Going into Wednesday night’s game at Indiana State, the North Texas Mean Green men’s basketball team (8-1) is having one of its best starts in program history.

North Texas’ lone loss coming on the road to a solid Big 12 school in Oklahoma (6-1). The Mean Green were neck and neck with the Sooners until midway through the second half, when Oklahoma went on multiple 8-0 runs to close out the game by a score of 73-57.

“We got out there and found a way to keep ourselves in the game, considering we played so terrible,” head coach Grant McCasland said. “The fact that we were up two points in the second half was completely shocking.”

McCasland said his team will learn from the loss as the Mean Green continue to play in big-time matchups.

“It’s going to take more games for us like Oklahoma to understand what we have to do to beat elite teams,” McCasland said. “The more opportunities we have, I believe you’ll start to see our team get better and find ways to win.”

After a win against Saint Peters on Nov. 24, the Mean Green improved to 8-0 for the first time since 1921. McCasland said there is a new standard and expectation for North Texas basketball this year.

“There’s a belief that we are supposed to be good,” McCasland said. “You have to know that you’re playing for something bigger than yourself and that you’re going to win. Our guys have a different expectation to the way they are approaching this year.”

Talks of a Conference USA championship and maybe even a 2019 NCAA Tournament appearance have been surfacing around this Mean Green team. Redshirt freshman Umoja Gibson said the team has talked about it before the season started, but they are focused on getting better one game at a time right now.

“Before the season even started, Coach Mac made it clear that we wanted to be playing in March,” Gibson said. “That’s always going to be a goal, but first we need to make sure and take it one game at a time and finish these last four non-conference games before we start thinking about anything else.”

Remarkably, seven of the first eight wins came without their 2017-star player and senior leader Roosevelt Smart, who broke the school record for total points in a single season.

Smart was sidelined with a strained calf during a practice before the season began and the Mean Green decided to air on the side of caution to make sure he was 100% before he stepped on the court again for game action.

“I’m still trying to get my timing and rhythm back,” Smart said. “It’s going to take time, and it’s not going to happen in two games. It’s progressing.”

There have been several players to step up and fill Smart’s vacancy early in the season, but none have burdened the load more than senior point guard Ryan Woolridge, who is averaging 13.1 points per game and leading the team in assists (47) and steals (19).

“[Ryan’s] really got a composure to himself,” McCasland said. “He played so many minutes last year that he knows what to expect early in the year. He’s not sped up, he’s playing at great pace and the guys love playing with him because he’s great at sharing the basketball. You can tell he wants to win.”

Sophomore post Zach Simmons has been the leader in the paint for North Texas, grabbing a team-leading seven rebounds per game and shooting 68.6 percent from the floor.

The Mean Green were known for their potent offense last season, scoring the most points in a single season and making the most three-pointers in school history last year. However, the defense for North Texas has only allowed 57.3 points per game, which ranks No. 10 in the nation.

The Mean Green’s top shooter, Gibson, suffered a gruesome leg injury at the beginning of the 2017 season, which resulted in him becoming medically redshirted during his freshman year.

Now, healthy and ready as ever, Gibson is thriving in a scoring role for the Mean Green. Gibson leads the team in points per game (14.8), three-point percentage (47.5) and free throw percentage (83).

“I worked hard in the fall and really worked on getting back in game shape during our practices,” Gibson said. “My teammates have found me and given me good looks so it’s been a great start to the season.”

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Bronte Hermesmeyer

Bronte Hermesmeyer

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