Jumping out to a 7-0 lead to start the game showed early signs for North Texas’ (17-9, 11-2 Conference USA) offense performing in sync where five Mean Green players scored 10 or more points. Charlotte (14-10, 8-5 C-USA) entered Thursday’s matchup in a three-way tie for third place in the C-USA standings while ranking third in scoring defense in the conference as well.
Junior forward Zach Simmons led the Mean Green in the first half with nine points while shooting 100 percent (4-for-4) on the floor. North Texas allowed 71 percent (5-for-7) in 3-point attempts to Charlotte in a 33-29 score closing at the halfway mark.
“Early on we tried making [Charlotte] commit to a decision on defending [Simmons],” head coach Grant McCasland said. “Anytime you can get someone with the size like [Simmons] to make 11 shots you’re playing the game the right way.”
The second half saw a 12-4 run for Charlotte leading North Texas 50-47 at the 11:48 mark where 49ers guard Malik Martin scored seven of his 15 points on the night. Two consecutive 3-point jump shots by junior guard James Reese gave the Mean Green the lead at 53-50.
“We felt like [Charlotte] was a step ahead of us in their offensive actions and they made us pay on our own mistakes,” McCasland said. “Give them credit, there were guys that were tough to cover. Outscoring them 46-18 in the paint is where we have to play. Later in the second half we were making the right plays offensively.”
On the following possession, senior guard Deng Geu scored on a layup where the Mean Green would hold the lead the rest of the game at 9:07 remaining. North Texas outscored Charlotte 15-4 over the next five minutes. Sophomore guard Umoja Gibson led the Mean Green scoring in the second half with 12 points (4-of-7, 2-of-5 3-point).
“Basketball is a game of runs, we know we’re a good team and it just took a little fighting to get the stops on defense,” Simmons said.
Five players for North Texas with 10 points or more include Gibson with 20, Simmons at 17, Javion Hamlet scoring 15, Deng at 12 and Reese with 10. The Mean Green shot 38.9 percent (7-for-18) from 3-point attempts and a total of 59.3 percent (32-for-54) on the night.
Guard Jamir Young led Charlotte with 21 points, five rebounds and four assists. The 49ers shot 56.5 percent (13-for-23) in 3-pointers, 8.6 percent higher than the total field goal attempts at 47.9 percent (23-for-48) for the entire game.
“We need contributions from everyone offensively moving forward because that’s how we’ll separate ourselves from the rest,” Hamlet said. “Even the ones who don’t play as much still contribute and produce.”
The Mean Green maintained their lead in the C-USA standings with the victory, where the 49ers now remain tied at fourth place with Florida International. North Texas holds a one-game lead in the conference over Western Kentucky (17-8, 10-3 C-USA) who won their Thursday matchup against UTEP (13-13, 4-9 C-USA) 67-62.
UP NEXT: The regular season comes to a close in a home game with senior day festivities for North Texas where they take on Old Dominion (11-15, 7-6 C-USA) Saturday, Feb. 15.
Featured Image: Redshirt sophomore guard Umoja Gibson cradles the ball through Charlotte defense on Feb. 13, 2020. Image by Zachary Thomas