Tony Benford has reasoned and pleaded with Tony Mitchell to do everything he possibly can to help lead North Texas out of its early-season funk.
The Mean Green’s first-year head coach wants Mitchell to shoot early and often, even when opponents run double teams at him. Benford wants the sophomore to take 15 to 20 shots a night, even when Mitchell thinks he might be perceived as being selfish.
Benford will be pleading again following an 80-76 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday that shows just how much UNT really needs Mitchell this season, not just offensively, but defensively as well.
The Mean Green (3-5, 0-1 Sun Belt) found itself locked in a tight game with the Ragin’ Cajuns and couldn’t make the plays it needed to pull out the win on a night Mitchell took just one shot. The loss was UNT’s third straight and added to the feeling that what was expected to be a special season for the Mean Green is quickly getting away.
“I love my guys,” Benford said. “We are going to turn this thing around. We are as disappointed as anyone — our fans, everybody. We have a good group.”
Mitchell is inarguably at the top of the list.
The preseason All-American and Preseason Sun Belt Player of the Year came into the night averaging 15.1 points and 8.9 rebounds a game.
By the time the stretch run came against ULL, Mitchell was gone after scoring three points and UNT was left to watch as the game quickly got away from the Mean Green.
Jordan Williams broke the 15th tie in a back-and-forth game with a 3-pointer that put UNT up 71-68 with 2:16 left.
ULL (3-5, 1-1) answered with a pair of free throws from Shawn Long just before Mitchell fouled out with 2:02 remaining.
The Ragin’ Cajuns then hit what turned out to be the key shot of the game — a 3-pointer from Steven Wronkoski with 1:16 left. Elfrid Payton hit two free throws with 15 seconds left to put ULL up 75-71.
Chris Jones pulled UNT back to within 77-76 with a 3-point play with 4.0 seconds left, but UNT couldn’t complete the rally.
“I feel like our effort was there,” UNT forward Roger Franklin said. “I just don’t feel like we made the plays down the stretch. That is what cost us. Those plays build up and then you look up and you are losing by three points. We have to make the plays down the stretch and make the stops.”
UNT came out of an offensive funk that saw the Mean Green fail to reach the 65-point mark in back-to-back losses behind Jones, who led three Mean Green players who finished in double figures with 23 points.
Franklin added 14 points and Williams 11.
“We were not executing offensively,” Williams said. “Tonight we moved the ball, attacked and got good shots. Down the stretch, we just couldn’t knock them down.”
The Ragin’ Cajuns had four players finish in double figures. Long scored a game-high 27 points and Bryant Mbamalu added 19, while hitting all six of his shots from the field, including five 3s. Payton added 14.
UNT needed the extra punch Mitchell could have provided, but saw him take only one shot all night — a breakaway dunk.
“We have to get Tony playing,” Benford said. “I don’t know what’s going on. We have to put him in better positions, I guess. He had five turnovers. Somehow we have to get him going. It’s difficult to have a guy like Tony and he does not get involved. I thought we had stuff to get him involved, but he got in foul trouble. That hurt. He never got into a rhythm.”
Benford and UNT’s coaches will spend the next few days looking for a solution for how to get Mitchell more involved.
“I have to look at the tape,” Benford said. “I want him to shoot 15 to 18 shots a game. I think he could be pressing a little bit. They are doubling him right away. We need him to make a quick move right away. We know his ability. For him to get one shot and have five turnovers, that’s tough.”
Louisiana-Lafayette 80, North Texas 76
LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE (3-5, 1-1) — Mbamalu 6-6 2-2 19, Long 9-13 8-8 27, Moore 3-7 3-6 9, Payton 4-13 6-8 14, Wronkoski 2-7 0-2 5, Soto 0-1 0-0 0, Shepherd 1-3 0-0 3, Brown 0-1 0-0 0, LeBlanc 1-2 0-0 3, Moss 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-53 19-26 80.
NORTH TEXAS (3-5 0-1) — Mitchell 1-1 1-2 3, Franklin 6-7 2-4 14, A. Williams 1-9 5-6 7, Jones 6-12 10-13 23, J. Williams 5-12 0-0 11, Holmen 3-9 0-0 8, Hardwick 0-0 0-0 0, Patton 4-6 0-0 8, Overlander 0-0 2-3 2, Stojiljkovic 0-1 0-0 0, Coleman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-57 20-28 76.
Halftime — Tied, 39-39. 3-point goals — ULL 9-18 (Mbamalu 5-5, Long 1-4, Payton 0-1, Wronkoski 1-3, Soto 0-1, Shepherd 1-2, LeBlanc 1-2), UNT 4-9 (Jones 1-2, J. Williams 1-3, Holmen 2-4). Fouled out — Mitchell, Long. Rebounds — ULL 32 (Payton 6), UNT 34 (Franklin, Jones 5). Assists — ULL 14 (Payton 9), UNT 7 (Jones 4). Personal fouls — ULL 19, UNT 22. A — 3,631.