Grant McCasland is a seasoned veteran when it comes to making a head coaching debut. He's done it at Midland College, Midwestern State and Arkansas State as well.
That didn't make what transpired in his North Texas coaching debut on Friday night any less special. Putting up a near-record performance in a 122-65 win over Eureka College only added to the occasion.
The Mean Green turned McCasland's first regular season game into a track meet on their way to posting the third-highest point total in a single game in program history. UNT fell just short of the program record for points in a game, set in a 126-76 win over Arkansas Tech in the 1969-70 season.
"The Super Pit was great," McCasland said. "It was a good crowd for an opener, the energy on our bench was great and we competed the way we need to in order to win games. What a fun atmosphere and way to start a season all the way around."
McCasland was quick to point out that it's football season and acknowledged the excitement surrounding the UNT football team's game against UTEP on Saturday, when the Mean Green will have a chance to clinch the Conference USA West Division title.
Similar to Seth Littrell and his work with the UNT football program, McCasland was hired to put the fun back into Mean Green basketball after five straight seasons at .500 or under.
McCasland took a big step toward that goal in his first game. Roosevelt Smart led six UNT players who finished in double figures with 21 points. Ryan Woolridge and freshman Umoja Gibson each added 19.
"We just came out aggressive," Woolridge said. "We wanted to start the season off with a bang."
That was just what UNT did after blowing open a game that was tied at 19-19.
Woolridge hit a layup off an assist from Smart that was just the spark UNT needed.
Shane Temara hit a pair of free throws before Jorden Duffey converted a three-point pay and cranked in a 3 to cap a 16-0 burst.
UNT held Eureka College scoreless for more than four minutes during its run.
The Mean Green's big night offensively was the story, but it was UNT's defense that was the first aspect of the game McCasland pointed out.
"We put a huge emphasis on the defensive side of the basketball," McCasland said. "That is where I was the most proud."
He was particularly happy with way UNT turned the game with its defense during its first half run. Shea Freehan led Eureka College with 24 points, but went just 5 of 16 from the field.
"Ryan's tempo and the way he guarded Feehan was the difference early in the game to get us going," McCasland said.
UNT's path will get considerably tougher in the next few weeks. A game at Nebraska looms on Monday, to be followed by games at Georgia Tech and Oklahoma later this month.
UNT will head into that stretch with a little more confidence thanks to the way it played Friday evening.
"This was definitely encouraging," Smart said. "The crowd was into it and we had energy."
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 via Twitter at @brettvito.
North Texas 122, Eureka College 65
EUREKA COLLEGE (0-1) – Wiegand 2-3 1-2 5, Dehm 2-5 0-0 4, McElmurry 3-5 0-0 8, Thomas 4-11 3-3 13, Feehan 5-16 10-12 24, LaGrande 2-5 1-1 5, Fawcett 0-2 0-0 0, Hardaway 0-0 0-0 0, Juergens 0-0 1-2 1, White 1-4 0-0 3, Sanders 0-0 0-2 0, Robinson 0-0 0-0 0, Ahnafield 0-0 0-0 0, Banks 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 19-51 18-24 65.
NORTH TEXAS (1-0) – Temara 6-7 2-2 15, Woolridge 9-13 1-4 19, Lawson 3-9 2-2 8, Smart 8-10 2-2 21, Gibson 7-17 1-2 19, Duffey 3-10 5-5 13, Holston 4-4 1-2 11, Jackson 0-0 0-0 0, Arikawe 1-2 3-4 5, Fuller 1-1 0-1 2, Simmons 1-1 2-3 4, Draper 2-4 1-1 5. Totals 45-78 20-28 122.
Halftime – UNT 55-34. Three-point goals - Eureka College 9-22 (Dehm 0-3, McElmurry 2-3, Thomas 2-2, Feehan 4-9, Fawcett 0-1, White 1-4) UNT 12-31 (Temara 1-1, Woolridge 0-2, Lawson 0-2, Smart 3-4, Gibson 4-9, Duffy 2-9, Holton 2-2, Draper 0-2) Fouled out - Wiegand. Rebounds - Eureka College 23 (Three tied, 3), UNT 48 (Three tied, 7) Assists - Eureka College 10 (Thomas 3), UNT 16 (Smart 4). Total fouls - Eureka College 25, UNT 23.