Give plenty of credit to North Texas, and save plenty more for UAB. That's how you compete in a championship game. That's how you walk off the floor for the final time in any season - with nothing left to give.
North Texas found just a little bit more to beat UAB for the third time in four meetings this season. So the Mean Green won the NIT championship 68-61. Tylor Perry earned the MVP trophy, unlike his Conference USA player of the year award, which should've gone to UAB's Jelly Walker.
North Texas deserved to celebrate Thursday night, but make no mistake about what did and did not happen in Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. North Texas coach Grant McCasland said it best amidst the on-court celebration. He called it the biggest game in North Texas history.
There is no doubt about that, and there is no doubt about this. Had UAB won the game and the title, had the Blazers not missed so many free throws and the officials not missed two obvious shot-clock violations on the Mean Green, which led to five undeserved points that changed a tight game down the stretch, Andy Kennedy could not and would not have said the same.
Although they have much in common of late, North Texas and UAB are not the same.
Each is a good basketball program led by an excellent coach, at least for now with McCasland expected to take the Texas Tech job any day. Each set a school record this season for victories, North Texas with 31, UAB with 29. Each has won exactly 56 games over the last two seasons. Each has elevated Conference USA above its reputation, and each is moving up to the American Athletic Conference next season.
North Texas can beat UAB - their short all-time series now stands at 8-8 - but until the Mean Green beats the modern-day equivalent of Ralph Sampson and No. 1 seed Virginia in the Sweet 16 to advance to the Elite Eight, or takes down overall No. 1 seed Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament's second round to reach another Sweet 16, North Texas will not be UAB.
The Blazers have done those things. They've played bigger games than the NIT championship game, and they've won bigger games, too. If that sounds like sour grapes after a bitter defeat, stomp on those feelings. Savor this last scoop of Jelly, one of the best players in school history, and appreciate the road this team and this program have traveled. ...
Read the rest of Kevin's column on a memorable UAB basketball season that fell just short of greatness. Only in The Lede.