North Texas Daily

‘Small ball’ lineup elevates men’s basketball past Rice at home

‘Small ball’ lineup elevates men’s basketball past Rice at home

February 03
21:22 2018

With 10:13 left in the second half, North Texas head coach Grant McCasland went with a peculiar lineup despite his team trailing by seven to Rice University.

The lineup was sophomore guards Ryan Woolridge, DJ Draper and Roosevelt Smart with junior guards Michael Miller and Allante Holston, who was the tallest player on the floor at 6 feet 7 inches.

No more subs were made in the game by the Mean Green (13-10, 6-4) and the lineup outscored the Owls 30-19 to secure a 74-70 win at home Saturday night.

“Our lineup change where we went small was the difference in the game,” McCasland said. “We were able to pressure them, switch ball screens, speed the game up and then Allante came up with some huge charges and just made some hustle plays that got us going offensively.”

Holston ended the game with a season-high 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting along with a team-high seven rebounds and a steal in his 26 minutes of play.

The smaller lineup, as McCasland mentioned, gave the Owls (5-18, 2-8) trouble throughout the night. In total, Rice had 18 turnovers which turned into 22 North Texas points. The Mean Green also had a 6-0 fast break points advantage, a 30-18 edge in points in the paint and 12 second-chance points to the Owls’ two.

“We work on [that lineup] in practice,” Holston said. “After they jumped out to the lead, we just dug deep and said we needed stops and no matter what we were going to win the game.”

Sophomore guard A.J. Lawson left the game with an ankle injury, freshman forward Zach Simmons was in foul trouble for most of the night and junior forward Tope Arikawe had back pains. All of this, along with the need to play small, led to Miller getting playing time in the late stages.

“When we went to the smaller lineup, Mike’s ability to guard and handle the basketball gave us an advantage,” McCasland said. “[Rice] made 10 threes, so I felt like we had to have better perimeter defense and Mike is one of those guys who can help matchup [on the perimeter].

Offensively, Smart was mostly on his own to create and score the ball. Last time he faced Rice, he scored 42 points and hit 10 3-pointers. This time, the Owls closed out hard and overplayed him constantly.

As a result, Smart got to the rim more as well as the free throw line. He finished with 28 points on 7-of-19 shooting and 11-of-14 shooting from the free throw line.

“I knew they were looking for me,” Smart said. “I just pump faked, got to the free throw line, made free throws. I started attacking the basket and making layups, so I just took what the defense gave me.”

In the end, the Mean Green pulled out the much-needed win over the struggling Owls. Now, they turn their attention to the daunting stretch of games ahead including matchups against four of the top six teams in Conference USA.

North Texas will be heading into the stretch with momentum, though, after going 3-0 in a brief home-stand.

“We learned a few times that winning at home is a must,” McCasland said. “We found ways to make it ugly and win so that’s where at as a team and I know we can get better. That’s where I’m excited.”

Next up: The Mean Green face the University of Alabama at Birmingham on the road at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Featured image: North Texas sophomore guard Roosevelt Smart (3) shoots the ball against Rice. Tate A. Owen

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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