Smart scores 25, North Texas beats USF 88-77 for CBI title
DENTON, Texas (AP) — Roosevelt Smart has led North Texas all season, so it was no surprise that he was the most valuable player in the deciding Game 3 of the College Basketball Invitational finals.
Smart, a sophomore who set UNT records for points and 3-point field goals this season, scored 25 points and made all 14 of his free throws in an 88-77 win over San Francisco on Friday night. The Mean Green were 32 for 43 from the line.
Smart said the free-throw success was no accident.
“Practice, really,” he said. “After practice, we do this free-throw drill and got to make free throws.”
The Mean Green trailed only once in the first half. They didn’t panic when USF pulled within a point at 52-51 with 9:33 to play.
“We calmed down,” UNT’s A.J. Lawson said. “The season showed that we matured over time. In that situation, we could close a game just by calming down, passing the ball and hitting the open guy. Nobody tried to do anything spectacular and be a superhero.”
First-year North Texas coach Grant McCasland called a timeout and set up a play for an unlikely player, Michael Miller.
“Mike was playing limited to no minutes at times, and all of sudden he steps in and makes some of the biggest shots,” McCasland said. “I drew up a play for Mike. He went and caught it and got the basket.”
Four of Smart’s points came during an 8-1 run in the second half after USF rallied within 52-51. Smart made two free throws and then added two more when San Francisco coach Kyle Smith drew a technical foul.
“He loves to play, and he’s a fantastic teammate,” McCasland said.
The Mean Green lost the opener in the best-of-three matchup but won 69-55 Wednesday to set up the championship game.
They had lost seven of eight games before receiving their CBI bid.
The players, who had been planning for their spring break, won five of six in the tournament.
Frankie Ferrari led the Dons (22-17) with 19 points. Nate Renfro added 18 and Chase Foster had 12.
North Texas led 45-31 before USF began its comeback. Ferrari started the 20-7 run with two of his five 3-pointers in 11 attempts.
Jorden Duffy scored 14 points and Lawson and Miller each had 12 for UNT.
San Francisco played without center Matt McCarthy, who was injured in Game 2. In his place, Nick Loew and Jimbo Lull totaled eight points and eight rebounds.
San Francisco: The Dons won their home game in the finals but lost both games at UNT. They stayed in the final game by making 12 3-pointers, bringing their season total to 333.
North Texas: The Mean Green had their first winning season since 2011-12. Their 20 wins were 12 more than a year ago. UNT had six 3-pointers for a season total of 302.
COULD RUSSELL BLOCK GREENE?
North Texas fans channeled the most famous athlete in each school’s history with a sign that read, “Mean Joe Greene would have dunked on Bill Russell.”
San Francisco has won 20-plus games in each of Smith’s two seasons, and North Texas won 20 in McCasland’s first season.
San Francisco has had consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time since 1982. A third wouldn’t be a stretch. Foster is one of only two Dons seniors.
North Texas also has only two seniors. “All the guys that played in this tournament, we return everybody,” McCasland said. The CBI title could portend bigger things. The 2015 and 2016 champions, Loyola-Chicago and Nevada, reached at least the Sweet 16 in this season’s NCAA tournament, with Loyola getting to the Final Four.