MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – North Texas hasn’t been in a spot quite like the one it’s in now in a long time following a 75-57 loss to Middle Tennessee on New Year’s Eve – the 1989-90 season to be exact.
UNT’s lost its first three games in Southland Conference play that year.
The Mean Green is back in that same unenviable situation after falling to the Blue Raiders at the Murphy Center, UNT’s third straight loss to open its final season in the Sun Belt Conference.
“We are disappointed, but we knew that this was going to be a tough road trip,” UNT head coach Tony Benford said. “The schedule comes back around to us. We have to take care of it. We are not pushing the panic button. We have to take care of home.”
“We are going to get better.”
The challenge could be improving without one its best players.
UNT (5-9) played without starting point guard Chris Jones, who sprained his right foot in the Mean Green’s loss to Western Kentucky on Saturday night.
The Mean Green struggled mightily offensively without Jones, who leads the Sun Belt with an average of 5.0 assists a game.
UNT shot just 18.5 percent (5-for-27) from the floor in the first half in one of the Mean Green’s toughest halves in recent years.
UNT’s shooting percentage before halftime was the lowest against MTSU since Denver shot 18.2 percent in the second half against the Blue Raiders on Feb. 1, 2007.
“It was more our shots selection,” UNT forward Roger Franklin said. “We took bad shots and settled more than anything. We didn’t execute the way we needed to.”
Benford attributed some of UNT’s problems to a lack of playmakers on the floor with Jones sitting on the bench in a walking boot.
Jones will visit UNT team doctors today.
Benford said there is a chance that Jones’ injury is serious and could keep him out of the lineup for an extended period.
Jones is averaging 10.2 points a game.
UNT moved Jordan Williams to shooting guard to fill the void created when Alzee Williams side over to the point guard spot to replace Jones and led the Mean Green with 15 points. Tony Mitchell finished with a double-double that included 13 points and 11 rebounds, while Franklin added 11 points.
“We needed someone to step up period, not just offensively,” Jordan Williams said. “We needed someone to step up period -- defensively, offensively and rebounding. It’s tough without CJ.”
A solid performance from Jordan Williams was not nearly enough to help UNT keep pace with MTSU (11-3). The Blue Raiders improved to 3-0 in Sun Belt play on a night it ran wave after wave of players at a shorthanded UNT team.
Marcos Knight led MTSU with 12 points and Raymond Cintron added 11 for the Blue Raiders, who had 10 players play at least 10 minutes.
“They are a good team with four all-conference players,” Benford said. “I knew our issue was going to be scoring. They play so many guys and are so quick.”
MTSU’s quickness and depth stifled UNT early on.
The Mean Green didn’t hit its second field goal until Jordan Williams hit a layup at 9:28 mark. Williams hit UNT’s first two shots from the floor around a drought 9:01 without a basket from the floor for the Mean Green, which started out 1-for-16 from the floor.
UNT trailed by as many as 18 in the first half, was down 37-24 at halftime and needed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Clarke Overlander to get that close.
The Mean Green missed its first six 3-point attempts before Overlander’s late make from behind the arc.
UNT generated most of its offense from the free-throw line, where the Mean Green went 13-for-17.
Overlander’s 3 seemed to spark UNT which went on a 12-0 run sandwiched around halftime that pulled the Mean Green to within 37-31.
MTSU answered with the next four points and then put UNT away with a 15-2 run a short time later.
The Mean Green never recovered and was left searching for a way to regroup heading into a two-game homestand beginning with a game against Troy on Thursday.
Benford emphasized after the game that the worst is over for UNT when it comes to its schedule. The challenge now is taking advantage of its opportunities the rest of the season.
“This was a tough road trip,” Franklin said. “We played Western Kentucky and had to come back and play Middle Tennessee. We are not making any excuses for it, but C.J. went down and we have to find out who we are again. We will be OK. Coach told us that the schedule comes back to us. We have played in some tough environments, especially tonight getting beat by 18 on TV, but we will bounce back.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Middle Tennessee 75, North Texas 57
NORTH TEXAS (5-9, 0-3) – Holmen 1-3 0-0 3, Mitchell 4-12 4-5 13, Franklin 5-12 1-1 11, A. Williams 2-8 0-0 4, J. Williams 5-14 4-6 15, Hardwick 1-1 0-1 2, Patton 0-1 2-2 2, Overlander 1-2 0-0 3, Stojiljkovic 0-3 4-4 4, Coleman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-56 15-19 57.
MIDDLE TENNESSEE (11-3, 3-0) – Jones 4-6 1-2 9, Hammonds 3-5 0-0 7, Sulton 2-6 2-2 6, Massey 3-9, 2-2 8, M. Knight 6-10 0-1 12, Gibson 0-0 0-0 0, Hunter 4-6 0-0 9, Gallman 0-1 0-0 0, T. Knight 4-8 0-4 8, Cintron 4-7 0-0 11, Walker 1-1 0-0 2, Jones 0-0 0-0 0, Gibson 0-0 0-0 0, Rozier 0-2 3-5 3. Totals 31-61 8-16 75.
Halftime – MTSU 37-24. 3-point goals – UNT 4-17 (Holmen 1-3, Mitchell 1-2, Franklin 0-1, A. Williams 0-1, J. Williams 1-7, Overlander 1-2, Stojiljkovic 0-1), MTSU 5-13 (Hammonds 1-1, Massey 0-1, Hunter 1-2, Gallman 0-1, T. Knight 0-1, Cintron 3-6, Rozier 0-1). Fouled out – none. Rebounds – UNT 33 (Mitchell 11), MTSU 42 (M. Knight 7). Assists – UNT 11 (A. Williams 5), MTSU 18 (Massey 4). Total fouls – UNT 18, MTSU 18. A – 3,872.