Grant McCasland wasn’t about to take the bait and talk about making a statement early in Conference USA play.
North Texas’ head coach is much more concerned about how his team is playing than what any one win says about where his team is at.
That said, UNT’s 81-58 win over Florida Atlantic on Saturday certainly seemed to fall into the statement category.
FAU rolled into the Super Pit unbeaten in C-USA play at 3-0 and was one of just three teams in the league without a loss in conference play heading into the weekend.
UNT (9-8) was up by double digits on the Owls for most of the second half and cruised to its third straight win while improving to 3-1 in C-USA play.
“It’s a big win because we’re playing right,” McCasland said. “You can see how our team is starting to see what good basketball looks like.”
For UNT it looks like great defense, balanced scoring from its starting five and key contributions off the bench.
That’s exactly what the Mean Green came up with in their win over FAU (11-6).
Javion Hamlet scored a game-high 20 points to lead four UNT players who finished in double figures. James Reese added 16, Umoja Gibson 12 and Zachary Simmons 10.
UNT shot 57.1% (32 of 56) from the field and had 10 players score.
“We moved the ball well and shared it,” McCasland said. “You can’t key on one person. Javion and Mo handled the ball and made the right plays. When our guys are open, they’re making shots.”
Reese hit all but one of his seven shots from the field, including two 3s. That was an encouraging sign after the junior scored just five points in UNT’s last two games combined.
“I saw one shot go through,” Reese said. “I’m a shooter and got hot. When I was in a slump, the guys told me to keep shooting. I want to hit for our team.”
Reese did just that and helped UNT quickly pull away from FAU, which had won seven of its last eight games.
Cornelius Taylor entered the Owls’ game against UNT off a 34-point outing in a win over Rice. The Mean Green shut down the graduate transfer guard, limiting him to two points on 1-of-11 shooting.
Michael Forrest scored 11 points off the bench to lead FAU.
“Everything we do is built off defense,” Reese said. “That’s what gives us energy. We take a lot of pride in it.”
UNT’s play on the defensive end helped break open what was a close game early in the first half.
The Mean Green were down 17-12 before Hamlet hit a runner in the lane to spark a 13-1 run that put UNT up for good.
Reese scored nine straight points to cap the run that gave the Mean Green a 25-18 lead.
McCasland and his players knew it was a matter of time before Reese got on track.
“Reese can really play,” McCasland said. “He’s one of those guys who can be a second option because of our good guard play. He can also be a primary option. He really got us going today.”
UNT was up 36-29 at halftime, largely because of Reese, and quickly pulled away in the second half.
Simmons scored six straight points to cap an 8-1 UNT run and the Mean Green cruised the rest of the way.
“Our defense in the second half helped us extend that lead,” Hamlet said. “Our defense leads to our offense. We have guys who can come in and make plays. We are getting better.”
UNT is also getting to the point where it looks like it will be a contender in C-USA play. The Mean Green finished 8-10 in league play in each of the last two years when they struggled down the stretch.
There is a long way to go in C-USA play this season, but UNT appears as if it will have staying power this year. The Mean Green struggled at times during a tough nonconference schedule and seem to be catching fire at just the right time.
“The nonconference really helped us,” Reese said. “It brought us closer so when we go on the road to tough places, it isn’t as tough because we have been through it. Everything is coming together.”
UNT had lost three straight to FAU. … The Owls’ 3-0 start was their best ever in C-USA. … The win was UNT’s 400th at the Super Pit.
North Texas 81, Florida Atlantic 58
FLORIDA ATLANTIC (11-6, 3-1) — Silins 2-7 2-3 7, Zecevic 2-6 0-0 4, Taylor 1-11 0-0 2, Winchester 1-2 1-2 3, Maitre 3-5 1-2 7, Niang 1-1 0-0 2, Forrest 4-10 0-1 11, Blackshear 1-5 1-2 3, Kapiti 4-4 0-0 8, Sebree 2-2 0-0 5, Robertson 1-4 4-4 6. Totals 22-57 9-14 58.
NORTH TEXAS (9-8, 3-1) — Geu 3-6 0-0 6, Z. Simmons 5-7 0-0 10, Reese 6-7 2-2 16, Gibson 4-11 2-2 12, Hamlet 9-14 1-2 20, Bell 1-4 0-2 3, Draper 2-2 0-0 6, Smart 1-2 0-0 2, J. Simmons 1-1 2-2 4, Jackson 0-2 0-0 0, Mohamed 0-0 0-0 0, Wise 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 32-56 9-12 81.
Halftime — UNT 36-39. Three-point goals — FAU 5-23 (Silins 1-4, Zecevic 0-1, Taylor 0-4, Winchester 0-1, Maitre 0-2, Forrest 3-8, Blackshear 0-1, Sebree 1-1, Robertson 0-1) UNT 8-17 (Geu 0-1, Reese 2-3, Gibson 2-6, Hamlet 1-3, Bell 1-2, Draper 2-2). Fouled out — none. Rebounds — FAU 28 (Zecevic 6) UNT 34 (two tied, 7). Assists — FAU 11 (two tied, 3) UNT 17 (Hamlet 6). Total fouls — FAU 16, UNT 17. A — 2,305.