North Texas will be without its top 3-point shooter for the rest of the season.
Brandan Walton, a senior who made a team-high 54 shots from behind the arc a year ago, broke his right foot in a season-opening loss to Creighton and elected Wednesday to redshirt.
UNT returned from an extended road trip to begin the year following a win over Lamar in the preseason NIT on Tuesday night.
Team doctors had an opportunity to examine Walton once the team returned to Denton. Walton discussed his situation with UNT’s coaches and his parents before deciding to sit out the year.
“That’s a tough blow for us,” head coach Tony Benford said. “He’s our best 3-point shooter other than Tony [Mitchell]. You have to be fair to the player, and it wouldn’t be fair to bring him back in the middle of January.”
Walton moved into the starting lineup midway through last season and started the final 17 games. He made at least one 3-pointer in 15 of those 17 games and scored in double figures 12 times in that span.
Walton shot 36.7 percent from 3-point range on the year and improved as the season progressed. He shot 41.0 percent in Sun Belt Conference play and tied for sixth in the league with an average of 2.13 3-pointers made per game.
Walton averaged 8.8 points for the season and hit one of the biggest shots of the year for UNT, a 3-pointer in the closing moments of the second half that gave the Mean Green a win over Louisiana-Lafayette in its opening game of the Sun Belt Conference tournament.
Mitchell, UNT’s 6-foot-8 forward and an NBA prospect, shot 43.9 percent from 3-point range last year and has hit 5 of 9 from beyond the arc in three games this year. Benford said that Mitchell will get a few more attempts from 3-point range now, but replacing the threat Walton presented from beyond the arc will be a team effort.
“We are trying to get Clarke Overlander going,” Benford said of the freshman from Argyle. “We need to get Jacob Holmen going. Chris [Jones] can make shots from out there, and Tony will take more threes.”
UNT will need all of those players to shoot the ball well to stretch defenses that will pack the lane to take away driving opportunities for Jones and Jordan Williams and keep the ball away from Mitchell.
“Teams are going to try to pack it in on us,” Benford said. “We are going to see a lot of zone.”
Benford happy with class
UNT received national letters of intent from two of the top high school forwards in Texas, players who will be key components of a three-player high school signing class that is expected to be finalized in the next few days.
UNT signed Greg Wesley, a 6-7 small forward from Arlington Seguin, and Josh Friar, a 6-8 power forward from Kingwood.
The Mean Green is also expected to receive a letter of intent from Tony Nunn, a 6-8 center from Oldsmar (Fla.) Christian, in the next few days.
Wesley is ranked No. 9 in Texashoops.com’s list of the top prospects in the state in the class of 2013, while Friar is ranked No. 46.
“We feel good about those guys,” Benford said. “All of them can come in and contribute right away. They have all played at a high level of AAU ball. If you look at it, we will lose a lot of our frontcourt players after this year. These guys have the bodies to come in and compete right away on the college level.”
Wesley is among the most highly recruited players to sign with UNT in recent seasons. He said he chose UNT over offers from Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Arkansas, TCU, SMU, New Mexico State and Louisiana-Lafayette when he committed to UNT in September.
Wesley averaged 14 points and 6.2 rebounds for Seguin last season and was a first-team All-District 7-4A pick as a junior.
“Wesley is going to be a really good player,” Benford said. “He is what I call switchable. He can play inside and outside.”
Friar did not play for Kingwood his junior season due to off-the-court issues. He projects as a power forward on the college level.
“Friar is the sleeper of the group,” Benford said. “He’s a load and can play on the block, rebound and shoot the 15-footer.”
Nunn is expected to fax in his letter of intent today. He confirmed earlier this year that he planned to sign with the Mean Green.
Nunn is rated No. 58 among centers in the class of 2013 by ESPN.
Women face SMU tonight
The UNT women will face rival SMU in their second game of the season at 7 tonight in Moody Coliseum.
UNT lost 88-83 to Texas State its season opener and its first under new head coach Mike Petersen on Monday.
The Mean Green beat SMU 50-46 last season in Denton but has not beaten the Mustangs in Dallas since 1989.
Freshman Alexis Hyder led three UNT players in double figures with 18 points in UNT’s season opener. Braylah Blakely added 16 points, while BreAnna Dawkins scored 14.
SMU is 2-0 on the season.
NIT consolation rounds set
The UNT men will face IUPUI and Virginia in the consolation round of the preseason NIT in Charlottesville, Va., next week. The tournament pairings were announced Wednesday. UNT (1-2) will take on IUPUI at 3:30 p.m. Monday before taking on the Cavaliers at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .