Tony Mitchell has received some pretty big ovations from the crowd at the Super Pit for everything from amazing dunks to clutch shots over the last year.
On Saturday, all he had to do was walk back onto the court.
Mitchell went down with what looked like it might be a serious ankle injury in the second half when UNT trailed Jackson State by as many as four points.
Mitchell made what head coach Tony Benford characterized as a remarkable recovery to lead UNT to a much-needed 83-65 win.
The Mean Green (4-6) snapped a four-game losing streak and picked up some momentum with its return to Sun Belt Conference play looming at the end of the month.
“It was good to get back on track, especially at home,” Mitchell said. “We have not been protecting home lately. This was a must win because we know what type of team we can be. We have to keep pushing and working hard.”
UNT just needed to win after dropping four straight since beating IUPUI on Nov. 19.
Mitchell was a big part of UNT’s plans to break out of its funk. The sophomore came into the night leading the Mean Green in a laundry list of statistical categories, from points and rebounds to blocked shots and free throws made.
UNT’s season appeared as if it might never be the same when Mitchell went up for a dunk, connected and then crumpled into a heap beyond the basket.
“I didn’t know what happened,” Benford said. “It looked like he was grabbing his knee. I give a lot of credit to E.J. [Hairston], our trainer. He must have some secret potion back there, because Tony came back running on the court and said he was ready to go. He played with a lot of urgency and was aggressive on both ends after that.”
Mitchell said he clipped the padding on the standard while sailing over the baseline on the dunk at the 17:01 mark of the second half.
“I thought I broke it,” Mitchell said. “I couldn’t move my foot. I didn’t get any lift on the dunk. When I came down I hit the pad and twisted it a little. My foot went to the right, and I just fell after that.”
Mitchell came back at the 14:27 mark and scored eight of his team-high 15 points after returning to the game. He also had 11 rebounds for his 13th double-double of the season.
“E.J. hooked me up,” Mitchell said. “He gave me some elastic wrap and a lot of tape around it.
“I felt good after that.”
Mitchell had a lot of help on a night when UNT had five players finish in double figures. Alzee Williams added 14 points and Roger Franklin chipped in with 13.
Chris Jones scored 11, as did Jordan Williams, who came off the bench.
Christian Williams led JSU with a game-high 24 points.
UNT needed all the help it could get after taking a 48-44 lead on an Alzee Williams jumper. UNT appeared as if it would pull away but quickly gave up an 8-0 run.
JSU (0-5) picked up four points on free throws after UNT was called for consecutive technical fouls. The first was called on Jones for arguing a foul call before UNT’s coaches were called for a second technical for further protests.
Benford said the officials told him that the second technical was called because UNT’s assistant coaches wandered too far away from the bench.
The game was tight until midway through the second half when Mitchell came back and UNT started to play better defensively.
“We came out in the second half and got to their 3-point shooters, Tony was aggressive, we got the ball inside and our defense was better,” Benford said.
That was a change from the first half.
UNT led by as many five in the early going before JSU grabbed a 33-32 lead at halftime.
JSU’s Dundrecous Nelson hit three straight free throws late in the first half after being fouled on a 3-point attempt.
JSU went 7-for-13 from behind the arc, where UNT missed all nine of its attempts in the first half.
Mitchell took just three shots in the first half, when UNT shot just 34.4 percent (11-for-32) from the floor.
“Coach talked about getting paint touches,” Alzee Williams said of the adjustments UNT made at halftime. “We were aggressive in getting to the basket and drawing fouls. That helped us a lot.”
So did the return of Mitchell, who had his ankle packed in ice after a win that UNT hopes will get it back on track.
“We were happy to get a win,” Benford said. “Jackson State is not a great team, but we needed to get a win and get back on track.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
North Texas 83, Jackson State 65
JACKSON STATE (0-5) — Readus 0-4 0-0 0, Gregory 1-2 0-0 2, Howard 2-7 4-6 9, C. Williams 6-11 7-9 24, Lewis 0-1 0-0 0, Stubbs 0-1 1-2 1, Nelson 3-8 5-10 11, Ballard 0-0 0-0 0, Stewart 2-5 1-3 7, Coleman 1-2 0-0 2, P. Williams 2-11 1-2 7, Demouchet 0-0 0-0 0, Smith 0-0 2-2 2, Jones 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-52 21-34 65.
NORTH TEXAS (4-6) — Holmen 3-5 3-3 9, T. Mitchell 6-9 3-7 15, Franklin 3-6 7-9 13, A. Williams 5-8 4-5 14, Jones 3-10 5-6 11, Hardwick 1-2 0-2 2, A. Mitchell 0-0 0-0 0, Patton 1-24-6 6, Overlander 0-2 0-0 0, J. Williams 4-10 2-2 11, Stojiljkovic 0-0 0-0 0, Coleman 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 27-56 28-40 83.
Halftime — JSU 33-32. 3-point goals — JSU 10-27 (Howard 1-4, C. Williams 5-9, Lewis 0-1, Nelson 0-3, Stewart 2-4, P. Williams 2-6), UNT 1-12 (Holmen 0-1, Mitchell 0-2, Jones 0-3, Overlander 0-2, J. Williams 1-4). Foueld out — Gregory, Nelson. Rebounds — JSU 30 (Readus, Gregory 5), UNT 46 (Mitchell 11). Assists — JSU 9 (C. Williams 3), UNT 11 (Jones 3). Total fouls — JSU 33, UNT 23, A — 2,827.