North Texas coach Grant McCasland touted the opportunity in front of his team in the National Invitation Tournament in the days leading up to the Mean Green’s opener in the event.
UNT certainly would rather be playing in the NCAA tournament, but it still has a chance to compete for a championship.
The Mean Green took a step toward that goal with a 69-53 win over Alcorn State in an opening-round game on Wednesday night at the Super Pit.
UNT lived to play another day and will face Sam Houston in the second round back at the Super Pit at 3 p.m. on Sunday.
“If we’re playing, we might as well win it,” UNT guard Kai Huntsberry said. “That is something coach has been saying. We’re going to cut down nets someway, somehow.”
UNT is well on its way to making this season a memorable one, even though it missed the NCAA tournament. The Mean Green won a game in the NIT for the second straight year and also added to their program record for wins in a season after improving to 27-7.
UNT reached that mark thanks in large part to another solid defensive performance. The Mean Green came into the night leading the country with an average of 55.7 points allowed per game.
UNT was at the top of its game defensively again against Alcorn (18-14) and pulled away in the second half, when the Braves shot just 24.0% (6 of 25) from the field.
UNT led 30-26 at the end of a closely contested first half.
“We locked back into who we are in the second half,” UNT guard Tylor Perry said. “Give Alcorn credit. They are a hard-playing team that is very well coached. What we do well is play on the defensive end. That helped us get away.”
Shaking off the disappointment of missing the NCAA tournament also played a key role.
UNT looked sluggish early and was only up 21-20 before hitting a pair of 3s late in the closing minutes before halftime. Huntsberry hit the first before Perry followed a short time later with the Green’s fourth 3 of the half.
Huntsberry had a good look at another and drew a foul. He hit all three free throws to help UNT take its four-point edge heading into the second half.
“This team wants to win,” UNT coach Grant McCasland said. “This is a great tournament. It’s the best when it comes to opportunity. If you love each other like our guys do, you’ll find a way to go out there and give it your best.”
UNT went on a 10-0 run early in the second half and grabbed a 40-27 led on a Moulaye Sissoko dunk. The Mean Green cruised the rest of the way behind Perry and Huntsberry.
Perry finished with a game-high 21 points, while Huntsberry added 10. Dominic Brewerton scored 14 points for Alcorn State. The Braves won their second straight SWAC regular season title before falling to Texas Southern in the conference tournament.
UNT struggled to get going offensively in its loss to UAB in the semifinals of the C-USA tournament and fell behind 22-2, a hole it couldn’t quite climb out of in a 76-69 loss.
The Mean Green were much more consistent from the start in their win over Alcorn State.
“There are days we don’t hit shots and days that we do,” Huntsberry said. “We had a tough start against UAB, but that won’t last forever.
“We hit more shots today.”
Finding a groove again offensively helped extend a historic season for UNT and guaranteed the Mean Green another home game.
“We get to keep playing,” Perry said. “There are a lot of guys sitting home on spring break right now. You never take that for granted. We’re just happy to get the win.”
North Texas 69, Alcorn State 53
ALCORN STATE (18-14) – McQuarer 2-11 0-0 4, Thorn 2-8 4-4 9, Marshall 2-2 2-3 6, Joshua 1-11 2-4 4, Walker 4-6 1-5 11, Brewerton 4-11 5-6 14, Pajeaud 1-2 0-0 2, Walker 0-2 0-0 0, Anderson 1-2 0-0 3, Butler 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-55 14-22 53.
NORTH TEXAS (27-7) – Scott 3-6 2-2 8, Ousmane 2-5 0-0 4, Eady 1-3 3-4 5, Perry 6-12 5-7 21, Huntsberry 2-7 4-5 10, Jones 2-6 2-3 7, Stone 0-2 0-0 0, Martinez 2-5 0-0 4, Sissoko 3-3 1-2 7, Browne 0-0 0-0 0, Moore 1-1 0-0 3, Mattu 0-0 0-0 0, Morgan 0-0 0-0 0. Allo 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-50 17-23 69.
Halftime – UNT 30-26 Three-point goals – Alcorn State 5-16 (Thorn 1-3, Josha 0-3, Walker 2-4, Brewerton 1-4, Anderson 1-2) UNT 8-26 (Eady 0-2, Perry 4-8, Huntsberry 2-6, Jones 1-5, Stone 0-2, Martinez 0-2, Moore 1-1) Fouled out – none Rebounds – Alcorn 37 (Thron 7) UNT 36 (Huntsberry 8) Assists – Alcorn 6 (Joshua 4) UNT 17 (Eady, Huntsberry 5) Total fouls – Alcorn 16, UNT 17 A – 2,122.
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