Draper's Heroics Lift North Texas Over Florida International
Woolridge Ties Career High With 21 Points
DENTON - DJ Draper's made three-pointer with three seconds remaining sealed a 69-67 victory over Florida International on Saturday evening at the Super Pit. The Mean Green improve to 3-0 in overtime games this season.
"My first reaction was to look at the clock because everyone was reacting like it was a buzzer-beater," Draper said. "Once I saw there was like 3.6 left, I was just trying to find matchups and get back."
Ryan Woolridge scooped up a near turnover and pitched it to Draper, who took the long-range shot. Draper's game-winning three wasn't his only heroics as a shot from beyond the arc gave the Mean Green (12-10, 5-4 C-USA) a 61-59 lead with two minutes in regulation, eventually helping send the game to overtime.
"It's funny how things work out," North Texas head coach Grant McCasland said. "You prepare and try to think through every scenario, but that wasn't the way I pictured it happening."
Woolridge tied his career high with a team-best 21 points, including half the team's overtime points, and Roosevelt Smart joined him in double-digits with 16 points. Zachary Simmons led the Mean Green with a new career-high 12 rebounds.
"I just took what the defense gave me," Woolridge said. "If they gave me lanes, I was going to take them."
After the Panthers (9-13, 3-6 C-USA) opened up a 12-point lead in the first half, the Mean Green scored on five straight possessions to close the deficit to three at 28-25. Smart hit back-to-back three pointers, including a four-point play, to cap off the run and finish the half with 10 points. North Texas went into the break trailing 35-29.
The Panthers, who lead Conference USA with 7.7 steals per game, recorded four steals in the first nine minutes of the game and finished the half with nine points off 11 North Texas turnovers. The Mean Green coughed the ball up 20 times in the game, the most since their loss at UT Arlington on Dec. 2.
"Maybe it was the lineup change, having two forwards and not having the continuity in that," McCasland said. "They're one of the best defensive teams in the league, so a lot of it was their physicality and the way they played."
The Mean Green began the second half on a 6-0 run, thanks to a trio of offensive rebounds that led to North Texas' first four second-chance points of the game.
"What we didn't do in the first half, we got a better feel for in the second half," McCasland said. "When we went to halftime, we saw the matchups and how they were playing us, we were able to position guys better."
Smart orchestrated another 6-0 run on his own to give the Mean Green their first lead since they led 6-4 three minutes into the game. On defense, North Texas held FIU without a field goal for more than four minutes, thanks to Draper's defensive play.
"DJ was the difference for us in the second half, defensively," McCasland said.
Free throws played a crucial role down the stretch as the Mean Green converted 7-of-8 during a 9-2 run to go ahead 58-57 with three minutes to play.
"I'm really proud of Ryan, because we completely retooled his shot and he goes 7-for-11 from the free-throw line," McCasland said. "That was huge."
North Texas wraps up a three-game homestand against Rice at 5 p.m. on Saturdya, Feb. 3.
- Woolridge passed Chris Jones for the eighth-most single-season assists in school history (129).
- Tope Arikawe made his first start in a Mean Green uniform on Saturday, finishing with four points and six rebounds.
- Smart has converted 19 consecutive free throw attempts over the last five games.
- North Texas tied a season-high with seven blocks as a team in the win.
- The Mean Green have won five of their last six against FIU.