— By David Walsh
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — North Texas coach Greg McCasland didn’t want to get in an uptempo game against Marshall University.
The Mean Green didn’t and left Cam Henderson Center with a tense 67-64 win over the Thundering Herd in front of 5,489 fans Saturday afternoon.
McCasland had just watched Western Kentucky pile up 61 second-half points Thursday night in a 93-84 win in Bowling Green, Ky.
“They’re the No. 4 fastest tempo team in the country,” McCasland said. “If they get out, you can’t catch up. It’s important, even if we turn it over, at least they’re down on the other end. They’re too good to give it a run.”
North Texas (7-8, 1-1 Conference USA) led 65-59 with 3 minutes left. The Thundering Herd’s Darius George scored and Andrew Taylor scored off a steal to get the home side within two at 65-63 with 2:16 left. With 1:37 to play, Taylor made 1-of-2 free throws to cut the lead to one (65-64).
After a North Texas turnover, the Herd’s Jerrod West missed a go-ahead three-point try. After another Mean Green turnover, the Herd had the ball under its basket with five seconds left. Iran Bennett had a turnover on the inbounds try, Javion Hamlet got fouled with four ticks left and hit both free throws to set the final margin.
North Texas began the game with one of the top five defenses in the league despite giving up 95 at WKU.
“Their record belies how good they really are,” Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni said. “They’ve been competitive everywhere they’ve been. I don’t want to beat a dead horse. We’ve got a lot of young ones. I’ve got to manage the end of the game better. We didn’t manage it well.”
North Texas kept the high powered Thundering Herd (7-8, 1-1) offense to 12 point below its season scoring average by limiting transition points and holding two of Marshall’s top offensive players under their scoring average. The 64 points match a season low (64 in a 74-64 loss at Notre Dame).
Hamlet and Umoja Gibson had 15 points each to lead the Mean Green. McCasland also singled out Roosevelt Smart for his work on defense (four steals).
“He came up big for us,” McCasland said. “They’re hard to guard. We did it the ugly way. They make you do that. We made things just hard enough.”
Sophomore Taevion Kinsey led Marshall with 19 points and freshman Cam Brooks-Harris had 11. The Mean Green limited West and Iran Bennett to nine points each.
North Texas shot 24-of-49 for 49 percent and limited the Herd to 21-of-53 for 39.6 percent. The Mean Green had 18 turnovers to 17 for Marshall.
“It’s on us,” Kinsey said. “Turnovers early, let them back in the game. Every game we’ve lost it’s been turnovers. We’ve got to be smart, more careful with the ball.
“We’re a young team, we get it. We’ve played now and have experience. That can’t be an excuse.”
Marshall’s next game is Thursday against Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro. Tip is 7:30 p.m. The two-game road trip continues next Saturday with a matinee against UAB in Birmingham, Fla. Start time is 3 p.m.
“It’s real frustrating,” Kinsey said. “We had a big steal at the end. Sometimes things don’t go your way. We fought hard, showed a lot of heart. We don’t want to be in that situation again.”