North Texas’ Javion Hamlet hit a runner with 14s left in overtime and WKU’s Taveion Hollingsworth was blocked by Thomas Bell in the final moments and NT beat WKU for the title.
The game was incredible, with four main runs that defined the game and set up the drama. North Texas started the game on a 17-0 run to open it up. NT was playing their fourth game in four days, having started the tournament from the 3rd seed in the “first” round against Middle Tennessee. NT had dropped from the top two seeds by virtue of a final-weekend sweep at the hands of UAB, the team WKU dispatched in the semifinal round.
WKU came into the game willing to take what was given, in contrast to the attacking, aggressive North Texas approach. Bassey settled for jumpers and NT was clogging the lane daring the Tops to shoot. After adjusting, WKU went on a run to get seven points back. After that it was even back-and-forth. NT led at the half and finished he half at 60% shooting to WKU’s 35%.
The second half was always going to see a renewed WKU and that is what happened. The roles were flipped, NT shot a terrible 19% but WKU managed only a 33% performance. Charles Bassey went on a personal 11-point run to get WKU the lead back right as North Texas started to tire. CR’s prediction before the game was that it would be close before NT tired at about the 5-minute mark.
The signs of the faltering started about the 11-minute mark when NT shot two airballs. Defenders were slipping more often, shots came up short, drives were not aggressive. WKU had a chance to push the lead out to eight and end things at the 2:30 mark. Jordan Rawls missed a good look from three with WKU up five. NT and WKU traded mistakes before Zach Simmons cut the lead to three. Taveion Hollingsworth traveled, and the set up NT for Mardrez McBride’s game-tying three pointer.
WKU had a chance to win it but Rawls missed Bassey on the pick and roll. Hamlet missed a heave with three seconds left.
In over time, it looked like WKU would press their advantage, but NT scored 13, including six big points from Javion Hamlet. Contrast that to the 14 total points scored in the entire second half. NT scored seven of those in the final 2:30 of regulation.
WKU played fine to start — Rawls scored five — but Josh Anderson’s turnover set up NT to give Hamlet an isolation look vs McKnight. He made it and Hollingsworth was blocked by Thomas Bell.
Javion Hamlet had a dream tournament on his way to being named tournament most valuable player.
- vs Middle Tennessee – 21 points, 11 assists, 7 rebounds on 9 of 16 shooting
- vs ODU 15 points (12 in second half, including 8 in final 3:32) 7 assists 9 rebounds on 4 of 17
- vs Tech 18 points (14 in 2nd half) 5 assists, 6 rebounds on 7 of 16 shooting
- vs WKU 20 points (6 in OT) 5 assists, 4 rebounds, on 7 of 17 shooting
Thomas Bell shot 0 of 6 from three until his contested make in overtime that gave NT a brief lead.
Zachary Simmons held his own against Charles Bassey to cap a tremendous career at North Texas. He beat Tech and WKU on the way to the title, the last two teams that eliminated the Mean Green while Zach was playing.
North Texas will learn their NCAA dance partner tomorrow.
Grant McCasland has now added a tournament title to his regular season and CIT wins. NT has a good recruiting class coming in and this could be the start of a nice run.
The Hilltoppers lost their third straight CUSA Title game in the same kind of heartbreaking fashion. Four seasons ago WKU missed a floater by Bearden in the final seconds. A year later it was Xavier Green coming up clutch for ODU to end WKU’s hopes. Last year WKU hoped to beat NT in the tournament before it was cancelled. Now this year’s heartbreaker. Up seven with 2:57 left against a tired team out of gas.
That all said, Rick Stansbury still leads the class of the conference. ODU dropped off considerably after winning, and Marshall has not been able to reach the same heights after Jon Elmore left. WKU challenged themselves in non-conference play and is good enough to represent the league as a second bid. It will not happen for anything WKU could control outside of winning the league outright.
Losing to NT is not shameful. Any one of Tech, UAB, NT, or WKU could have won and it would have been deserved.