North Texas was offered a golden opportunity to prepare for a tough part of its schedule in the form of a three-game homestand that ended on Wednesday.
That run didn't always go as planned and appeared as if it might end with a resounding thud before A.J. Lawson took matters in his own hands and helped UNT pull away for an 86-74 win over Rogers State at the Super Pit.
UNT led by just three over the Hillcats in the second half before recovering to win for the second time in the three-game series on its home floor.
Facing a stiff challenge from a Division II team in Rogers State wasn't ideal. Neither was falling to Texas Rio Grande Valley, but UNT felt like it improved along the way while winning two of three.
"We were able to learn some things as a team," UNT coach Grant McCasland said. "We were 349 in the country in field goals made on assists. We didn't have many assists on makes."
UNT addressed that concern in its win over Rogers State, a win that had McCasland looking at the bottom line more than anything.
"We got better in each game," McCasland said.
The Mean Green will find out how much better awfully quickly over the next few days.
UNT will take on Georgia Tech on Friday before tackling Grambling and Oklahoma next week.
Two games against major conference competition will represent a dramatic step up from what UNT (3-2) has seen so far this season, even though McCasland credited Rogers State (4-2) for being a whole lot better than most Division II teams.
"I told the guys," McCasland said of the quality of Rogers State's team. "We scrimmaged Oral Roberts. They played a two-point game at Oral Roberts. I knew going into it.
"They didn't come in here looking around asking, 'How is this going to work?' They came to compete."
That is just what the Hillcats did.
UNT led by as many as 18 in the early going before Rogers State charged back and pulled to within three at 62-59 on a Brian Harness layup at the 10:02 mark of the second half.
Lawson took over from there, scoring six straight points. UNT quickly pushed its lead back to double figures and pulled away.
"They go used to me looking for other people," Lawson said. "Coach Mac told me that if I attacked it, it would be open."
It was during that stretch for Lawson, who scored two of his points off an assist from Ryan Woolridge.
McCasland was particularly happy with the fact UNT finished with 19 assists after compiling just 38 through the first four games of the season.
Woolridge finished with nine assists, several of them to Roosevelt Smart, who led UNT with 26 points. Lawson added 17.
Chase Littlejohn paced Rogers State with 12.
"I just wanted to be aggressive," Smart said. "Ryan, A.J. and Duff [Jorden Duffey] found me and got me going."
Smart hit five 3s in the first half on his way to scoring 17. The Mean Green led the rest of the half and took a 42-31 lead into the break.
Rogers State responded in the second half and made things interesting when it pulled within three points late.
"They put a lot of shooters out there," McCasland said. "I don't care what level you are, if you can shoot, you can cause teams problems. They made timely shots."
The Hillcats drained 11 of those shots from behind the arc while putting a brief scare into the Mean Green, who responded and pulled away in the finale of their three-game homestand.
The series is one McCasland believes will benefit the Mean Green as their schedule starts to get a whole lot tougher, beginning with a trip to Georgia Tech on Friday.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.
North Texas 86, Rogers 74
ROGERS STATE (4-1) -- Ferreira 4-8 0-1 8, Loy 1-6 0-0 2, Smith 1-7 3-4 6, Turner 4-8 0-0 10, Davis 1-2 2-2 4, Hilaire 3-5 2-2 9, Harness 1-2 0-0 2, Peacock 2-4 4-4 10, Raney 1-3 0-0 3, Harkey 0-1 0-0 0Ahnte 0-1 0-0 0, Littlejohn 4-7 0-0 12, Leak 4-7 0-0 8. Totals 26-60 11-13 74
NORTH TEXAS (3-2) -- Temara 4-7 2-4 10, Woolridge 4-6 1-2 11, Lawson 5-8 7-9 17, Smart 8-15 4-4 26, Holston 1-3 0-0 2, Duffy 3-4 1-2 9, Jackson 0-1 0-0 0, Fuller 1-1 0-0 2, Miller 0-5 0-0 0, Simmons 4- 1-3 9, Draper 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-57 16-24 86.
Halftime -- UNT, 42-31. Three-point goals - Rogers State (Loyd 0-1, Smith 1-2, Turner 2-3, Hilaire 1-1, Peacock 2-4, Raney 1-2, Littlejohn 4-6) UNT 10-24 (Woolridge 2-2, Lawson 0-2, Smart 6-12, Holston 0-1, Duffey 2-3, Jackson 0-1, Miller 0-3) Fouled out -- Ferreira. Rebounds -- Rogers State 32 (Littlejohn 5), UNT 37 (Lawson 8) Assists -- Rogers State 15 (Three tied, 3), UNT 19 (Woolridge 9) Total fouls -- Rogers State 24, UNT 15. A -- 1,678.