Stellar Defense, Guard Play Saves UNT's Season
Mean Green Will Play Friday For CBI Championship
DENTON -- With its season on the line, all North Texas seemingly needed was one solid run.
With five minutes gone in the second half, San Francisco hadn't scored, and the Mean Green had opened the second half on a 10-0 run to gain the cushion they needed to roll to a 69-55 Game 2 victory in the best-of-three CBI championship series.
"The first few minutes of the half dictate who wins the game," UNT coach Grant McCasland said. "We got stops. It was [a 16-3 run] to start the second half. You could tell there was a sense of urgency."
North Texas (19-18) trailed for just 11 seconds in the game, thanks to two big runs and a massive advantage on the glass, as the Mean Green outrebounded the Dons (22-16) by 12 and dominated USF 16-4 on the offensive glass.
Another big factor for the North Texas victory was a stellar defensive effort after the Dons saw all five starters score in double figures in Monday's series opener in San Francisco. On Wednesday, only one USF starter scored in double figures as guard Frankie Ferrari found his way to 10 points.
"What we did defensively was really exciting," McCasland said. "We were physical on ball screens and significantly better than the first game. They didn't get second attempts. They had four offensive boards for the game. We really emphasized that and wanted to improve there, and we did."
San Francisco had 14 3-pointers in Monday's opener but managed just nine -- three of which came with the game well in hand for North Texas in the second half.
"We guarded the arc about as good as you could guard it, with the exception of that one stretch," McCasland said.
The Mean Green saw some standout performances from their guards, led by Jorden Duffy, who was making his fifth career start (all five games of the CBI) and finished with a team-high 15 points and nine rebounds to lead the Mean Green. Roosevelt Smart scored 13 points and freshman forward Zachary Simmons had 12 points and seven boards despite missing eight minutes in the second half with a knee-injury scare. Forward Tope Arikawe came off the bench to score 10 points and grab six boards.
"Our guards had to do a better job rebounding," McCasland said. "At their place, we had a few where we leaked out and it burned us, and we didn't do that tonight. Tope was physical around the rim on offense and defense. He had a few baskets around the rim that were great for us. It was big to see him step up."
Now, the Mean Green prepare to face the Dons for a third time this week in the decisive Game 3, set for 6 p.m. on Friday.
McCasland said he hopes to put on a show for what he hopes is another raucous, season-high crowd.
"There's obvious benefits in our team getting to practice and have postseason experience," McCasland said. "There are benefits in our young roster being able to play in games that mean something, but for our fans to get a chance to see what it feels like to be a championship team is really the icing on the cake for us. I told our fans we were going to play hard, and it's now fun to see us not only play hard but find a way to win meaningful games. I look forward to seeing everyone Friday night, and it'll be a great opportunity for us."
North Texas (19-18) returns to the Super Pit on Friday night at 6 p.m. to face San Francisco in a decisive Game 3 in the best-of-three CBI championship series.
- Ryan Woolridge's five assists gives him 213 dimes on the season. He broke a tie with Walter Johnson from the 1976-77 season and is now the Mean Green's all-time single-season assists leader. With 10:55 left in the first half, Woolridge found Jorden Duffy at top of the key for a 3-pointer to break the record.
- Roosevelt Smart's 13 points gave him 717 for the season and inched him closer to the single-season program benchmark of 728, which belongs to Kenneth Lyons in the 1982-83 season. With one game remaining this season, he needs 12 points to become the single-season points leader in program history.
- UNT made just two 3-pointers on the night but still extended its single-season program record to 296 made 3-pointers on the season.
- The Mean Green's 69 points gives them 2,740 for the year, which extends a new school record set this season.
- UNT snapped an 0-for-12 skid from the field that lasted more than six minutes when Tope Arikawe scored with 20 seconds to play in the half to give the Mean Green a 33-31 halftime advantage. That lead was at 11 for North Texas before the scoreless drought began.
- North Texas forced 16 turnovers on the night and committed just three -- one each for three different players.
- Simmons left with 18:12 left in second after having his knee rolled up on a minute earlier, aggravating an earlier injury. He returned with 10:33 left in the game.
- USF didn't score for first 5:05 of second half after a 10-0 run from the Mean Green. The run was extended to 16-3 to build a 49-34 lead midway through the second half.
- The attendance of 4,196 was the largest crowd at the Super Pit this season.