North Texas Daily

RECAP: Men’s basketball sweeps Rice out of the gym

RECAP: Men’s basketball sweeps Rice out of the gym

RECAP: Men’s basketball sweeps Rice out of the gym
January 31
20:08 2021

After defeating the Rice University Owls 79-74 on Friday in Houston, North Texas men’s basketball (9-5, 5-1 Conference USA) completed a sweep of Rice (10-8, 4-6 C-USA) on Sunday in Denton, beating the Owls by a score of 79-53.

The Mean Green’s defense held Rice to 53 points, 25 points below its season-scoring average coming into Sunday of 78 points per game.

“They’re a really good offensive team, so slowing them down is something we wanted to take pride in,” Senior forward Zach Simmons said. “Especially coming off that first game, we let them score a little too much. We had a lot of emphasis on what we were doing on defense.”

After falling behind 8-4 early in the first half, North Texas scored 10 unanswered points to take a 14-8 lead and never trailed the rest of the way.

Head coach Grant McCasland said senior guard James Reese, who suffered an apparent ankle injury late in Friday’s game and did not return, was a key factor in the team’s win on Sunday. Reese started for the Mean Green on Sunday and finished with 12 points, four rebounds and three assists in 26 minutes of action, limping at times from the pain in his ankle.

“Gritty effort by Reese,” McCasland said. “I think that probably epitomized how we played the game. We had a guy that had [the] best plus-minus for the game at plus-24 and he was the one guy that was probably a game-time decision on playing today. If you see his ankle, it’s swollen and got bruising, and he still found a way just to come out here and win. He guarded Olivari for the game, and Olivari goes 2-for-11 and 0-for-2 from three — that’s what a senior does that really wants to win.”

The win on Sunday was a much different story on both ends of the court from North Texas’ 79-74 triumph on Friday.

Defensively, the Mean Green did a better job of keeping Rice’s two leading scorers in check on Sunday, holding sophomore guards Travis Evee (15.9 points per game) and Quincy Olivari (15.6 points per game) to 13 points combined after giving up 28 to the pair on Friday. Even though North Texas gave up 18 points to sophomore forward Max Fiedler, Simmons said stopping Rice’s two guards was the top priority coming into the game.

“Guys were very active, activity on and off the ball is something we really talk about,” Simmons said. “Fiedler got going in the first half for sure, but it was kind of part of our design of our game plan trying to get Olivari and Evee, limit those guys.”

Offensively, senior guard Javion Hamlet had led the Mean Green with 30 points on Friday and was one of five players to score more than three points in that game. The team’s scoring was much more balanced on Sunday with three players posting double figures and eight players scoring at least five points, led by a double-double from Simmons (14 points and 10 rebounds) who finished two points short of 1,000 career points.

“Our offensive confidence is at an all-time high right now,” Reese said. “You got Zach playing very well, we got Javion playing better, player of the year status where he was at. Everybody else is just falling in line. I feel like our offensive confidence is getting better and better every day. Coach Mac gives us great plays and everybody’s bought in, we want to do what we’re doing.”

UP NEXT: North Texas looks to continue its four-game win streak as it hosts Louisiana Tech University (14-5, C-USA 7-3) on Feb. 5 and 6 in the Super Pit.

Featured Image: Senior guard James Reece shoots a 3-pointer over Rice defender on Jan. 31, 2021. Image by Zachary Thomas

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John Fields

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