North Texas is hoping that the first game on one of its tougher road trips of the season was the start of something big - both for Tony Mitchell and the Mean Green in general.
UNT has gone through ups and downs with a young team that has five players in the starting lineup who weren't there last year.
One of the highlights came Thursday when Mitchell scored 34 points and grabbed 16 rebounds to lead UNT to a 78-73 overtime win over South Alabama.
UNT had beaten the Jaguars in Mobile just once in nine tries before squeaking out its third win in its last four games overall.
The Mean Green (9-7, 2-1 Sun Belt) will look to finish off its trip with a sweep today when it takes on Arkansas State in the second half of a doubleheader that will begin with the women's game at 3:05 p.m.
Reaching that goal will be a whole lot easier if Mitchell can build on his breakout performance Thursday, one both he and head coach Johnny Jones attributed to the comfort zone he is starting to find with his new team. Mitchell only became eligible seven games ago.
"Tony hadn't played in a long time," Jones said Thursday. "He has benefited from the games he has had a chance to play in, and tonight it helped him with his confidence. Confidence goes a long way with the type of ability that he has."
UNT will need Mitchell to display that talent as it continues to work through a tough injury situation. UNT is without key forwards Kedrick Hogans and Jacob Holmen due to injury and already was a man down with Justin Patton not eligible this season.
Forrest Robinson, a freshman forward, is also out due to injury.
Mitchell appears ready to help fill the void.
"I am feeling more comfortable out there," he said Thursday. "My teammates told me to be more aggressive, and I shot the ball better tonight. I tried to do whatever it took to win - boxing out and rebounding, scoring and setting up other guys."
The Mean Green could use another big night from Mitchell against a team that has beaten UNT in three of the teams' last four meetings.
ASU (7-9, 1-1) does not appear to have as good a team as in previous years, though. The Red Wolves have dropped three of their last four and edged Louisiana-Monroe by two for their only win in that span. ULM has won just one game all season.
ASU has five players averaging at least 9.9 points a game, including junior guard Marcus Hooten, who leads the team with 11.7 points per game
Chris Jones is averaging 14.8 points and Mitchell 13.7 for UNT, which appeared to pick up some steam heading into the heart of Sun Belt play with its win over USA.
"It's a great win for us," Johnny Jones said. "This is a tough place to play. It's always a battle. The guys focused tonight from tip to finish. We always talk about playing hard for 40 minutes or however long it takes. Tonight it was one of those 'however long it takes' games."
The UNT women also are looking to build on a solid start. UNT (9-7) lost at USA on Wednesday, but still has an opportunity to start 3-1 in Sun Belt play for the first time since the 2004-05 season.
ASU (5-10) has won seven of its last eight meetings with the Mean Green, but has dropped its first three Sun Belt games.
Sophomore forward Ash'Lynne Evans has averaged 17.7 points a game in UNT's three Sun Belt games.
The Mean Green will have leading scorer Jasmine Godbolt back for her second game after recovering from a knee injury.
Godbolt is averaging 13.3 points and 8.6 rebounds a game. She scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds in her return to UNT's rotation in the Mean Green's loss to the Jaguars.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com.