DENTON — Mean Green men's basketball coach Grant McCasland has said it all year.
"Our depth is our strength."
Saturday, North Texas' Roosevelt Smart and Jorden Duffy were held scoreless and the team faced a double-digit second-half deficit. But a 17-1 run to end the game pulled the team out of the hole and come from behind and beat UT Arlington 63-61 to capture its 10th win of the year and mark its best start to a season since 1976-77.
"Coach has said it all year," senior Michael Miller said. " 'Our strength is in our bench.' And we just got to pick each other up and keep fighting."
Smart, who set the UNT single-season scoring record last year with 742 points, had never been held scoreless in a game at North Texas or at New Mexico Junior College where he spent one season before transferring to the Mean Green.
And with Smart nor Duffy, who was coming off a 23-point performance at Indiana State, making their shots and UTA (3-7) sinking a surprising amount of three-pointers, the Mean Green (10-1) found themselves in a tight battle.
The Mavericks entered Saturday's contest as one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country, making just 23.2 percent from beyond the arc. But on Saturday, they opened the game making six of their first eight attempts.
A back-and-forth contest in the first half quickly turned into a what appeared to be a knockdown blow as UTA ended the first-half on a 8-0 run and led 36-31 at the midway point.
"We weren't defeated," McCasland said about his team during halftime in the locker room. "It did feel like we had just taken a blow though. But as soon as we got in the huddle to start the second-half I saw confidence in our guys and belief and I knew we'd be alright."
UTA bumped its five-point halftime lead all the way up to 12 with 11 minutes and 37 seconds left in the game and it took McCasland using all his timeout to get his team to where it needed to be but once it started to click, the Mean Green went on a roll.
"We've been competing like this since coach Mac got here," said sophomore forward Zachary Simmons who grabbed eight of his 10 rebounds in the second-half. "Throughout our practices and games it's a common theme that's built inside of us to never stop competing.
"We emphasized getting to the rim in the second half as it would open things up," he added.
And it did.
Miller constantly attacked the rim and put pressure on the UTA defense, Simmons cleaned up misses, grabbed five offensive boards in the second-half and freshman Umoja Gibson knocked down a couple huge three-pointers.
Meanwhile, the three-pointers the Mavericks had been hitting no longer were falling as the Mean Green defense closed out and didn't give them second chances. UTA was just 3-of-11 from deep in the second-half.
A couple huge defensive stops, including Gibson knocking down a three-pointer and then drawing a charge on the following UTA possession gave all the momentum to the Mean Green who from five minutes and 51 seconds left in the game until there were just 52 seconds left went on a 17-1 run.
In the final seconds of the game, the Mavericks' Radshad Davis drove to the hoop with an opportunity to send the game into overtime but it rolled just off the rim as the final horn went off.
Despite Smart nor Duffy scoring a basket, North Texas got 24 points from its bench and Michael Miller, who was inserted in the starting lineup at Indiana State led the team with 17.
"Our depth is our strength," McCasland said after Saturday's game. "We grew up tonight."
- North Texas ends a five-game losing streak to UT Arlington.
- In 1976-77 the Mean Green started 11-1 and also beat UTA that year.
- The last time UNT had 10 non-conference wins in a season was in 2010-11.
- As of Saturday, North Texas is just one of three teams in the country with 10 wins. The other two are undefeated No. 5 Michigan and No. 25 Furman.