Mean Green Fend Off Grambling Behind Smart's 23 Points
North Texas Shoots Season-High 80 Percent From Free Throw
DENTON - In the final game of the Ramblin' Wreck Showcase, North Texas held on for an 82-77 win over Grambling State on Monday night. Sophomore Roosevelt Smart led the team with 23 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field and a perfect 8-of-8 from the free-throw line.
A.J. Lawson (12), Zachary Simmons (11), Ryan Woolridge (11) and Jorden Duffy (10) joined Smart in double-digits. Shane Temara recorded a team-high six rebounds, and Woolridge paced the team with seven assists.
"That comes with sharing the basketball, playing inside-out and not panicking and trying to make a play by yourself," McCasland said on the balanced scoring. "Once we get more guys comfortable in their roles, that'll go down."
After the teams went back-and-forth in the opening minutes, Grambling used a 6-0 run to take a 15-10 lead. A Lawson three-pointer snapped the run and a nearly three-minute scoring drought, in which North Texas had three turnovers. A pair of threes by Smart and Duffy highlighted an 8-0 run that gave the Mean Green a 21-19 lead.
"They took it to us early," McCasland said. "Their zone was active, and that was the difference-maker early. We had 10 turnovers that led to 16 points at halftime."
North Texas went on a stretch of 7-of-9 shooting, led by four points each for Temara and Lawson, but the Tigers had hot hands of their own from the field. A four-point play for Grambling resulted in a 38-34 lead, which Duffy cut in half with a jumper at the buzzer. Lawson led the way with nine points on 4-of-7 shooting.
"I told the team two things at halftime," McCasland said. "We needed to do a better job of not turning the ball over, and Ryan Woolridge on the ball needed to be a gamechanger."
The Mean Green hit the road running in the second half, starting off the period on a 11-0 run, sparked by a dunk by Simmons to open the half. Simmons kept the hot start going with another dunk, followed by his career-high third block.
"Coach just talked about guarding the ball, playing defense and getting stops," Simmons said. "When we do that, we get a chance to run in transition, which leads to some easy buckets for us. We just got quick buckets and played good defense."
North Texas rattled off another 11-0 run over a three minute stretch, while holding Grambling scoreless, to extend the lead to 59-40 and force a Tiger timeout. The Mean Green outscored Grambling 23-2 before the Tigers' offense came to life, hitting 7-of-8 field goals to close the gap to 68-59.
A 13-2 Grambling run, along with a four-minute streak without a bucket for North Texas, allowed the Tigers to tie it at 72-72 with three minutes to play. The Mean Green scored five straight points on a Smart jumper and a trio of free throws to pull ahead, 77-72.
"When adversity hit and they started making baskets and forcing turnovers, we stayed composed and made the right plays down the stretch to get the win," Smart said.
After not attempting a free throw in the first half, North Texas was 16-of-20 from the charity stripe in the second half, including 8-of-10 in the final two minutes to hold on for the win.
"We started getting the ball inside, driving and throwing it in, which causes a lot of pressure on the defense, making them collapse and commit fouls," Simmons said. "In the first half, we weren't doing that as much."
North Texas heads north on I-35 to take on Oklahoma at 7 p.m. Thursday in Norman.
- Monday marked Smart's third-straight game in double-figures.
- The Mean Green finished 2-2 in the Ramblin' Wreck Showcase.
- Simmons set a career high with 11 points in the win.
- North Texas finished with 46 of its 82 points in the paint.
- Woolridge has double-digit points in six of the Mean Green's seven games.