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Recap: Men’s basketball sits atop C-USA West after sweeping Southern Mississippi

Recap: Men’s basketball sits atop C-USA West after sweeping Southern Mississippi

Recap: Men’s basketball sits atop C-USA West after sweeping Southern Mississippi
February 13
20:31 2021

Coming off a 65-49 win over the University of Southern Mississippi on Friday, North Texas men’s basketball completed a sweep of the Golden Eagles on Saturday with a 68-56 victory.

The Mean Green’s (12-6, 8-2 Conference USA) sweep of USM (7-14, 3-11 C-USA), combined with Louisiana Tech University sweeping University of Alabama at Birmingham, allowed North Texas to climb to No. 1 in the Conference USA West Division. North Texas rose to the top of the West due to having the highest winning percentage in the division at .800, higher than .750 for UAB (16-4, 9-3 C-USA) and .714 for LA Tech (17-6, 10-4 C-USA).

“It feels great, but at the end of the day, we still got some more games,” Senior guard James Reese said. “We’re going to be happy about it, but we’re still locked in. […] We don’t want to just be No. 1, we want to win the conference, go to the NCAA tournament and get some games there, so that’s the goal. We’re not gonna get too happy about just being No. 1.”

Reese was a key contributor in the victory, tallying 12 points, three steals and a career-high eight rebounds. Since he struggled a bit shooting the ball, going 5-of-12 from the field and 2-of-8 on 3-pointers, Reese said he made it a priority to contribute as a rebounder.

“I was missing a lot of open shots, and my coaches were just telling me to stay with it,” Reese said. “But I was thinking if I’m not hitting those shots, let me at least get a rebound, you know, do something. That’s just me wanting to do something else, get 10 rebounds instead of 10 points. That’s how I was thinking there, and I just came up with eight.”

While the Mean Green never trailed during the two-game series, leading for 76:28 of the 80 total minutes, Southern Miss did keep the games competitive. The Golden Eagles rallied late to cut North Texas’ lead to nine points with 3:18 left in the game. The Mean Green made key baskets down the stretch, however, and forced two misses and a turnover on USM’s last three possessions to seal the win.

On the offensive side of the ball, all but four of North Texas’ points came from the starting five. Aside from Reese, three senior starters in guard Javion Hamlet (21 points) and forwards Zachary Simmons (17 points and six rebounds) and Thomas Bell (10 points and five rebounds) led the charge for the Mean Green. Those three players shot a combined 18-of-23 (78.3 percent) from the field and head coach Grant McCasland said their senior leadership was key in the win.

“That’s what you got to do on the road,” McCasland said. “You got to find a way to do it with leadership. Sometimes at home, just because of the way the flow is, there’s a little more confidence on that side, but on the road, you just got to have guys that know what’s at stake. You got to play mistake-free ball, and I thought for the most part we did that and gave ourselves a chance to win the basketball game. We didn’t play great, but we played well enough to win two games. Any time you win two road games in Conference USA, you’re doing something right.”

Up Next: The Mean Green will return home for a series against C-USA East Division leader Western Kentucky University on Feb. 19 and 20.

Featured Image: Senior forward Zachary Simmons looks for an open Mean Green teammate against Louisiana Tech on Feb. 6, 2021. Image by Zachary Thomas

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John Fields

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