Tony Benford would like nothing more than to see the North Texas men get to the point where they’re scoring easy points in transition during his debut season with the Mean Green.
UNT didn’t spend a second working toward that goal Thursday while preparing for its Sun Belt Conference opener today against Louisiana-Lafayette. The Mean Green had a more pressing issue to get to after failing to crack the 65-point mark in consecutive losses — finding some continuity with its halfcourt offense.
UNT (3-4) shot an unsightly 16.1 percent from the floor in the second half of a home loss to Texas-Arlington on Wednesday, dropping its season average to 39.6 percent, a mark that ranks eighth in the Sun Belt.
The Mean Green will have to get a lot better to compete for a Sun Belt title in its last year in the league, beginning with its game against the Ragin’ Cajuns today in the second half of a doubleheader that will begin with the women’s game at 5 p.m.
“That’s all we did yesterday — work on our halfcourt offense,” freshman guard Clarke Overlander said. “I really do think that it clicked with some people. We will see how it works out.”
UNT ran more set plays under former head coach Johnny Jones last season, when the Mean Green knew where its shots would come for each player on a given night.
Overlander and several other players have said since the summer there are more options in Benford’s system that they have needed time to adjust to this year.
“All it is is a three-out, two-in motion,” Benford said. “We have a lot of things we can do with ball screen action, high-low action, stagger screens and single down screens. We have a lot of action in it that we are not utilizing right now. Our players are starting to understand it better. We knew it would be something that would get better as the season goes along.”
What isn’t helping UNT is a lack of outside shooting. The Mean Green lost its best outside shooter in Brandan Walton to a broken foot, an injury that ended his season after just one game.
With few outside shooting threats, UNT has seen opponents pack the paint and dare the Mean Green to score from outside. UNT has struggled to respond.
Tony Mitchell is averaging 15.1 points per game to lead UNT, but the Mean Green has struggled to get its top player good shots, or make teams pay for taking him away with double teams.
“I told our guys that we have to be able to shoot the ball,” Benford said. “As Division I players, we have to be able to make free-throw jump shots.”
UNT’s players say they are more than capable of doing just that and improving their performance offensively when they can’t get out and run in transition.
“Everyone is trying to get used to it,” Overlander said of the system. “Coach Benford really stressed it yesterday in practice. He cleared some things up. We are going to work on it again today. I think it will be a lot better.”
The UNT women also expect times to get better in Sun Belt play. The Mean Green played a brutal schedule with games against Alabama, Arizona and New Mexico, and sits at 1-5 heading into today’s game.
“We are not meeting our expectation win-loss wise,” UNT head coach Mike Petersen said. “At the same time, I think what we have proven is when we play the right way, we can beat absolutely anyone on our schedule. What we have to do is mature to the point where we play the right way over a longer period of time.”
UNT has played well for extended stretches at times. The Mean Green led by 18 early in the second half before falling to Arizona this week.
UNT rallied from 19 points down to beat St. Bonaventure in double overtime for its only win.
“The Alabama game, the Arizona game and the New Mexico game will help us get better,” UNT guard BreAnna Dawkins said. “It helped us build chemistry and helped us get more experience with our freshmen and the players who just got here.”
Dawkins is averaging 12.3 points to lead UNT, while freshman forward Alexis Hyder is adding 11.2 points a game.
UNT soon could get a big boost with the return of Jasmine Godbolt. The senior forward could be back from a knee injury that has kept her out all season for a game against UTA on Dec. 18.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com.