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Recap: Hamlet’s last second shot sends men’s basketball to the promised land

Recap: Hamlet’s last second shot sends men’s basketball to the promised land

Recap: Hamlet’s last second shot sends men’s basketball to the promised land
March 14
01:24 2021

With the Conference USA title and a bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line, the men’s basketball team pulled out a narrow 61-57 win over Western Kentucky University on Saturday.

“It feels kind of surreal at the moment,” Simmons said. “This what you work for, especially because we couldn’t do it last year. We really had plans on it and we knew this is where we wanted to get back to. Just trying to find a way to win, it feels amazing.”

In winning the conference championship game, North Texas secured its first conference tournament championship since winning the Sunbelt Conference championship game in 2010. The Mean Green lost to Western Kentucky in the 2012 Sunbelt title game.

It was fitting for senior guard Javion Hamlet to score the game’s deciding basket with a floater in the lane. The 2019-20 Conference USA Player of the Year, he was named tournament MVP after averaging 18.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and seven assists per game for the tourney.

After Hamlet’s floater, Western Kentucky (20-7, 11-3 C-USA) had the ball down by two points with a chance to tie the game or win it. Defense has been key to the Mean Green’s (17-9, 9-5 C-USA) success all season and the defense stepped up when it mattered most, coming up with a stop to seal the win.

“[Western Kentucky] took three timeouts and we were like, ‘Are they going to try to make a 3-pointer with Bassey?’ We didn’t know,” McCasland said. “Because a three, you lose the game. Then [Taevion Hollingsworth] turned the corner and Thomas [Bell] goes and walls up and gets a piece of it, then the ball bounces to Reese and he makes two free throws. What a fitting possession for Reese to be guarding [Hollingsworth] and for Thomas to go and get a piece of it because Thomas has kind of been our best defender all year long and then there he is at the rim, making a play.”

In what was a battle of runs throughout, North Texas jumped out to a 17-0 lead over the game’s first six minutes. Western Kentucky rallied and cut the deficit to 11 at halftime before dominating much of the second half, outscoring the Mean Green 25-6 up to the 2:57 mark. North Texas rallied with a 7-0 run over the final 2:30 to tie the game and send it to overtime.

“That’s what we preach is to stay together through all the ups and downs,” Simmons said. “[Western Kentucky] is a team that’s really good, [they] kind of play in waves. We just had to withstand runs, that’s the game of basketball. I felt like we did, we made our own run right there at the end and got to OT.”

Junior guard Mardrez McBride hit the 3-pointer which tied the game at 48 with 22 seconds remaining and sent the two teams to overtime. He finished with 13 points on 4-of-9 shooting.

“Actually, J-Ham told me, he was like, ‘Come set this screen and pop out, I’m going to throw it to you,'” McBride said. “He believed in me and I had to come through for the team.”

Another key factor in the win, senior forward Zachary Simmons battled with C-USA Player of the Year Charles Bassey and scored important baskets against him.

“Zach was a part of the journey from the beginning, which is beautiful,” McCasland said. “I thought his conviction in this game was the difference. He scored on Bassey when we needed baskets. You want to talk about a different level of belief, the dude’s like the best shot blocker we’ve played. We told [Simmons] you can’t shoot it on him and then Zach still scored. I just thought that summed up everything.”

Featured Image: Redshirt senior guard Javion Hamlet attempts a layup at the rim against the University of Alabama-Birmingham on March 5, 2021. Image by Zachary Thomas

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John Fields

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