Tony Benford and his players knew there would be an adjustment period in his first season as North Texas head coach.
They just never expected that process to include a road trip quite like the one the Mean Green experienced last week.
UNT lost to Creighton, which wasn’t a huge surprise. Falling to Alabama-Huntsville, a Division II team, was another matter.
That was a stunner for UNT, which believes it is on the way to learning from that loss and growing from a brutal three-game swing heading into its home opener tonight against Cameron.
The Mean Green not only dropped a pair of games before bouncing back to beat Lamar on Tuesday in the preseason NIT, it also lost shooting guard Brandan Walton for the season with a broken foot.
“It was a tough trip,” Benford said. “We knew Creighton was going to be a difficult game and Alabama-Huntsville, I give those guys credit. That was the worst loss I have been a part of in 21 years. That’s all on me. I will always be accountable. That is a game we should have won.”
UNT is hoping to turn that game into a turning point in its season.
The Mean Green cruised by Lamar 74-59 its next time out.
“We have to take on the mind-set that the loss was our wake-up call,” UNT forward Roger Franklin said. “Maybe the hype got to us a little bit, but now we know what have to do.
“The pressure is off us. All we have to do is go out there and play good basketball.”
UNT came into the season believing it had the ability to do that and a lot more, thanks to the return of All-American candidate Tony Mitchell, not to mention several of its other top players.
What those players knew all along is that they might need some time to adjust to playing together, especially with a new staff taking over the program.
UNT’s injury situation certainly hasn’t helped matters. Forward Jacob Holmen and guards P.J. Hardwick and Clarke Overlander have battled nagging injuries early in the season and have missed practice time.
Benford said he wasn’t sure if any of the three would play in UNT’s season opener at Creighton. The time they missed slowed down UNT’s growth.
“We are figuring coach Benford out, and he’s figuring us out,” Holmen said. “It’s a long season. We are going to have to be patient, but it will all come together. We are figuring out how he wants to sub and our roles, how we fit in on offense and what we are supposed to do on the defensive end.”
UNT has seen some good signs as they go through the adjustment process. Mitchell is averaging 15.3 points and 9.3 rebounds to pace UNT, which has seen some other players post breakout games.
Jordan Williams scored a career-high 26 points against Huntsville and is averaging 13.7 points a game.
Mitchell didn’t start playing until the second semester of last season, while Williams and Jones didn’t play after the end of the first semester after failing to meet academic requirements.
“We are going to benefit from more practices and more games,” Benford said. “Tony has only played one semester of college basketball; Jordan Williams and Chris Jones have only played one semester of college basketball and that is the core of your team right there.”
UNT hopes to show it is continuing to adjust against Cameron, a member of the Division II Lone Star Conference. The Aggies beat Southwestern Adventist in their season opener.
Benford said he wants to see his team play better defense and improve in terms of rebounding against Cameron, something he says is largely a matter of effort.
UNT expects to see improvements in both areas beginning tonight as the Mean Green continues to adjust to a new staff and a new lineup after a tough road trip and a loss to Huntsville that knocked UNT back a little bit.
“This is the first year that everyone will play an entire year,” Franklin said. “It’s a learning process, especially with a new staff, but that is no excuse. We are going to get it down and once we do, we will be a team to be reckoned with.”
Tony Nunn, a 6-foot-9 center out of Oldsmar Christian in Florida, became the third player to sign with the UNT men’s basketball team Thursday, Benford announced. Nunn joins Greg Wesley of Arlington Seguin and Josh Friar of Kingwood, who signed Wednesday. … New UNT women’s basketball coach Mike Petersen announced that Candice Adams, a point guard from Cedar Hill, and Terra Ellison, a guard from The Colony, have signed with UNT.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com .