North Texas has faced a tough road in the early stages of Grant McCasland’s third season as the Mean Green’s coach.

UNT has lost at VCU, a team that is now ranked 21st in the Associated Press Top 25, and fallen at Arkansas.

Those tough trips were a prelude to yet another couple of challenging road games this week as UNT closes out the Jamaica Classic with two games on the island. The Mean Green will face Rhode Island on Friday afternoon before taking on Utah State on Sunday night.

Utah State is ranked No. 15 nationally, while Rhode Island is 3-1 and blew out Alabama 93-79 earlier this season.

“They don’t know what they are getting into going to Jamaica,” McCasland said of his players. “They are excited to get out of town and go to the beach, but we have been clear that the reason we are going is to get two wins.”

Grant McCasland

Grant McCasland

Reaching that goal will be a challenge for UNT (2-3). The Mean Green had lost three straight before breaking through for their first win over a Division I team this season when they toppled North Carolina A&T 80-60 on Tuesday.

UNT took a dramatic step forward in its win over the Aggies. The Mean Green averaged just 50 points per game in three straight losses that were all defensive slug-fests.

UNT lost by just three at VCU and five at home against Eastern Michigan but clearly needed to find a groove offensively heading into its game against N.C. A&T. The Mean Green took a step toward that goal while scoring a season high with 80 points.

The Mean Green didn’t have a player averaging double figures heading into their game against the Aggies. Sophomore guard Umjoa Gibson scored 20 points in UNT’s last outing and now leads the Mean Green at 11.4 points per game.

Building on that performance will be tough in UNT’s final two games of the tournament. The event starts with two games played at on-campus sites before the final two are played in Jamaica.

Rhode Island’s lone loss came at No. 6 Maryland. Junior guard Fatts Russell is averaging 17.3 points per game to lead four Rams who are averaging double figures.

Utah State (5-0) blew out UTSA 82-50 in its last outing. The Roadrunners are also a member of Conference USA.

Senior guard Sam Merrill is one of five Aggies averaging double figures and is posting a team-high 17.4 points per game.

“It’s going to be fun,” UNT forward Abdul Mohamed said. “It will be a good experience and we get to play two good teams. It will be a challenge. We are up to that challenge.”

UNT will also have some time to spend on the beach and enjoy time away from Denton. The Mean Green played in the Rainbow Classic last year in Hawaii and won three games.

UNT is hoping for another sweep, this time against two highly regarded teams.

“Guys understand what we are going for,” McCasland said. “These experiences are unique. I am thankful to North Texas for letting us go. This is an experience they will never forget.”

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

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