Photo Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
Defense helps North Texas stun Wisconsin, reach NIT finals
Rubin Jones scored all 12 of his points in the second half, and North Texas held Wisconsin scoreless in the game’s final 9:07 to snatch a 56-54 victory in the NIT semifinals on Tuesday at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
The Mean Green (30-7) reached the 30-win plateau for the first time in the program’s 68-year history and notched their eleventh all-time postseason win, all of which have come since 2017 under sixth-year head coach Grant McCasland.
North Texas will face either UAB (28-9) or Utah Valley (28-8) for the NIT title on Thursday.
Tylor Perry led the Mean Green with 16 points, while Kai Huntsberry contributed 12 points and five assists. Moulaye Sissoko chipped in seven points and grabbed a team-high six rebounds.
Chucky Hepburn scored all of his team-leading 15 points in the first half for the Badgers (20-15), who shot a horrid 6-for-25 (24%) from the floor in the second half. Connor Essegian and Tyler Wahl each supplied 12 points.
North Texas entered Tuesday’s affair allowing five 3-pointers per game, the fourth-fewest in the NCAA, but could do little to contain the Badgers beyond the arc in the first half.
Hepburn finished 5-for-8 on 3-point attempts in the opening stanza, while Essegian and Isaac Lindsey each added a trey as Wisconsin built a 41-29 halftime lead.
The Mean Green switched Perry for Huntsberry to guard Hepburn to begin the second half, and the move helped North Texas crawl back into the game.
Hepburn was kept off the board, while Jones shook off his scoreless first half and catalyzed the Mean Green offense as Perry struggled to find looks from the floor, finishing the second half with just two points.
Essegian’s layup made it 51-42 Wisconsin with 13:10 to play, but the Badgers went colder than a Wisconsin winter from the floor, missing 15 of their final 16 shots.
After Jones’ bucket knotted the game at 54-54, Sissoko backed down Wahl in the paint and muscled home a layup that gave the Mean Green their first lead of the game at 56-54 with 2:07 to play.
Wahl squandered a golden opportunity to tie the contest when he missed two free throws with 49 seconds left.
Wisconsin had one more chance to tie or win after forcing a Perry turnover, but Wahl’s errant pass rolled away and the Badgers failed to get a shot off before the final buzzer sounded.
The Mean Green shot 21-for-48 (43.8%) from the field and finished the game on a 14-3 run, holding Wisconsin to just 13 points in the second half.
–Field Level Media