Grant McCasland received a call from the North Texas campus police on Friday. It was the kind of call UNT’s coach loves to receive.
The lights were on the Super Pit at 11 at night, when James Reese was getting up some extra shots just hours after a tough loss to Oklahoma.
UNT fell to the Sooners in a heartbreaker on Thursday after Thomas Bell’s last-second 3 wouldn’t fall.
The Mean Green were determined to avoid a repeat and saw the payoff in a 76-53 win over Little Rock.
UNT tied a program record by draining 19 shots from 3-point range against the Trojans.
“This team practices hard on its own,” McCasland said. “It’s a matter of time before this is more normal. That is what you love about them. They were all in the gym after the game was over. When someone works this hard, eventually it will turn.”
That certainly was the case in UNT’s game against Little Rock.
The Mean Green went just 10-for-32 from deep against the Sooners. UNT roared back with a 19-of-35 performance against the Trojans in one of the best shooting games in program history.
The Mean Green have hit 19 shots from 3-point range two other times in program history. UNT also hit 19 in a win over Texas A&M-Commerce last season.
Six players contributed to UNT’s barrage from behind the arc. Sophomore guard Umoja Gibson hit his first five shots from 3-point range and went on to go 7-for-10 from deep on his way to scoring a game-high 23 points.
“It’s getting into the gym,” Gibson said. “I don’t make those shots if I don’t get in the gym.”
A host of UNT players are doing just that, including Reese. He had been struggling from 3-point range and missed 10 straight over the course of three games before breaking through to make two in UNT’s loss to Oklahoma.
He built on that performance by hitting four more against Little Rock.
“My coaches have stuck with me and my teammates pick me up,” Reese said “Mo and Javion [Hamlet] tell me to keep shooting and keep passing to me. Confidence is the best thing ever. I just keep shooting. I’m glad I’m making them now.”
Roosevelt Smart has been a threat from deep for UNT ever since he stepped on campus and continued to inch up the Mean Green’s career leaders list after hitting three 3s against the Trojans. The senior moved into a tie with Chris Davis for second in program history with 189 makes from 3-point range in his career.
Calvin Watkins hit 208 from 2003-07 and holds the program record.
McCasland credited UNT’s performance not only to the work his players have put in but also to the chemistry the Mean Green are developing.
“It’s ball movement and getting the ball to the right spots at the right time,” McCasland said. “We didn’t have a lot of crazy shots. They were all in rhythm. It was good offense.”
That offense kicked into gear midway through the first half after Little Rock guard Markquis Nowell hit back-to-back 3s to pull the Trojans within 22-21.
The Mean Green responded with a 17-0 run. Four different UNT players hit a 3 during the burst, one DJ Draper capped with a shot from deep to put the Mean Green up 39-21.
Little Rock couldn’t keep pace, despite 18 points from Ben Coupet Jr. UNT held Nowell, who came into the game averaging 20.3 points per game, to 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting.
UNT appeared as if it would easily race past the program record for 3s after hitting 13 in the first half and was within striking distance late.
The Mean Green came up one short and settled for the tie, not that it mattered to UNT.
McCasland and his team are a whole lot more worried about continuing to build toward the start of Conference USA play.
UNT has three more games left, including a showdown with nationally ranked Dayton later this month.
The Mean Green felt a whole lot better about their prospects in those games after a tremendous shooting night against Little Rock, one McCasland and his players credited to some late-night shooting that prompted a phone call from the campus police.
“If you knew how much they practice it would break your heart to watch them go 0-for-6,” McCasland said. “You can’t keep doing that as much as they practice. No one is in the gym more than Mo and Reese. No one.”
North Texas 76, Little Rock 53
LITTLE ROCK (5-5) – Johnson 3-5 0-0 6, Monyyong 0-5 3-6 3, Coupet 4-9 8-9 18, Nowell 3-8 2-2 10, Stulic 3-4 0-0 7, Lottie 2-3 1-4 5, Besovic 2-5 0-0 4, Palermo 0-6 0-0 0, Curtis 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 17-46 14-21 53.
NORTH TEXAS (4-6) – Geu 2-5 0-0 5, Z. Simmons 2-3 0-0 4, Reese 4-10 0-0 12, Gibson 7-11 2-2 23, Hamlet 1-4 0-0 2, Bell 2-4 1-2 7, Draper 2-4 2-2 8, Smart 3-5 0-0 9, J. Simmons 2-4 0-0 4, Jackson 1-2 0-0 2, Mohamed 0-1 0-0 0, Wise 0-0 0-0 0, Murray 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-54 5-6 76.
Halftime – UNT 45-25. Three-point goals – Little Rock 5-16 (Monyyong 0-2, Couplet 2-5, Nowell 2-6, Stulic 1-1, Palermo 0-1, Curtis II 0-1) UNT 19-35 (Geu 1-1, Reese 4-9, Gibson 7-10, Hamlet 0-1, Bell 2-3, Draper 2-4, Smart 3-5, Jackson 0-1, Murray 0-1). Fouled out – Geu. Rebounds – Little Rock 30 (Monyyong 9), UNT 33 (two tied, 6). Assists – Little Rock 8 (Nowell 4) UNT 23 (Hamlet 8). Total fouls – Little Rock 14, UNT 19. A – 2,136.