Rolling players in and out of the lineup is a staple of exhibition basketball, when nothing is on the line and coaches are still determining their best lineup combinations.
Tony Benford followed that strategy in North Texas’ 90-49 win over East Central (Okla.) on Thursday.
Just don’t expect anything to change once the games start counting in a few days.
UNT’s new head coach inherited a team blessed with the type of depth that is rare anywhere on the college level, let alone the Sun Belt Conference.
Benford fully intends to use every bit of it.
“I would like to play a lot of guys,” Benford said. “I think we are deep. That is one of the things we are blessed with, not only depth but quality depth.”
UNT rolled nine players in and out against ECU for most of the night in its only exhibition before its season opener at Creighton on Nov. 9. Each of those players scored, including five who finished in double figures.
Jordan Williams posted a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds in his return to the lineup after missing most of last season when he became ineligible at the semester break.
Roger Franklin added 13 points, and Tony Mitchell posted 12 points, five rebounds and five blocks.
UNT’s performance provided just a glimpse of what its arsenal could contain by the time Sun Belt play rolls around. Center Keith Coleman did not play after failing to meet academic standards, while Justin Patton and Clarke Overlander were both out with injuries.
Patton is out two to four weeks with a knee injury, while Overlander should be back within a few days after recovering from a pulled hamstring.
Coleman will be back in practice today.
“We have rules in this program,” Benford said. “You have to be accountable. He had some study hall issues, some class issues and some tutorial issues that he didn’t take care of. One thing I promised him and his mom is that he will get an education. If you don’t go to class and miss appointments on my watch, we are not going to put up with it.”
Benford said he does not anticipate Coleman will encounter any additional issues the rest of the season.
“Keith is fine,” Benford said. “He will be back in practice [today] and will be ready to go at Creighton. He’s a great kid. He just made some mistakes.”
The way UNT played without Coleman is an indication of just how many options it has available. Mitchell and Jacob Holmen started at the forward spots in a three-guard lineup. UNT was outrebounded 43-36 by ECU but controlled the game defensively. Mitchell had five of UNT’s eight blocked shots, and the Mean Green held ECU to 30.2 percent (19-for-63) shooting from the field.
UNT kept the pressure on all night and saw all nine of the players in its primary rotation score at least four points.
“We have a lot of talent on this team,” Mitchell said. “We can rotate five out and five in. It will help us. It’s a long season where people get injuries, especially nagging injuries. It will play out well for us.”
The Mean Green’s depth will not only help in terms of keeping players fresh, it will also give Benford more options in terms of the way he can defend opponents. Mitchell is a standout shot blocker and can anchor a defense that will be even better when Patton returns.
If anyone is off for UNT, there will be someone waiting on the bench to fill the void.
“What that depth does is hold people accountable,” Benford said. “If someone is not playing hard, he’s coming out. If you are not disciplined to run the floor in transition or not disciplined enough to rotate defensively or share the basketball and do the things you need to do to help your team win, there are other guys who will do that. It helps guys get better.”
UNT made the game feel like the exhibition blowout it was supposed to be from the start even though it was without three key players. The Mean Green was up by double figures early in the first half and coasted to a 47-22 lead at halftime.
Benford has emphasized getting the ball inside since taking over the program. Franklin took advantage from the outset, scoring 11 points in the first half while hitting all but one of his five shots from the floor.
UNT shot 54.8 percent (17-for-31) from the floor in the opening period, when eight players scored for the Mean Green.
UNT kept the pressure on the rest of the way while establishing what it wants to do under Benford, who showed in the exhibition that he plans to use all the players at his disposal.
“It’s great for the team,” Williams said of UNT’s deep bench. “People get injuries. It’s great to be able to roll people in and out. It will give us a lot of options.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
North Texas 90, East Central 49
EAST CENTRAL — Ardister 1-6 0-0 2, Pwono 0-1 0-2 0, Carr 2-9 0-0 4, Fisher 3-7 0-0 8, Fountain 1-6 2-2 4, Walters 0-3 2-2 2, Lee 3-9 2-2 8, Burrell 1-2 0-0 2, Richardson 0-3 0-0 0, Davis 0-0 0-0 0, Bell 1-3 2-2 5, Anderson 0-0 0-0 0, Mitchell 1-3 0-0 2, Ja.Williams 5-8 0-2 10, Reeves 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 19-63 8-12 49.
NORTH TEXAS — Holmen 2-4 2-2 6, T. Mitchell 3-8 5-8 12, Walton 2-6 4-4 8, A. Williams 4-10 2-2 10, Jones 4-8 3-4 11, Hardwick 3-3 0-0 6, A. Mitchell 0-0 0-0 0, J. Williams 6-8 7-7 20, Stojiljkovic 2-4 0-04, Franklin 5-8 3-6 13. Totals 31-59 26-33 90.
Halftime – UNT 47-22. 3-point goals – ECU 3-17 (Carr 0-1, Fisher 2-4, Fountain 0-2, Walters 0-2, Richardson 0-2, Bell 1-2, Mitchell 0-2, Reeves 0-2), UNT 2-8 (Mitchell 1-2, Walton 0-2, A. Williams 0-1, Jones 0-2, J. Williams 1-1). Fouled out – Ja. Williams. Rebounds – ECU43 (Ardister, Pwono, Lee 3), UNT 36 (J. Williams 10). Assists – ECU 6 (Ardister 2), UNT 8 (Walton, A. Williams, Jones 2). Total fouls – ECU 23, UNT 12. A – 3,134.