North Texas will be without one of its top players for tonight’s game against Troy, and possibly for the rest of the season.
Chris Jones, UNT’s starting point guard and one of the top playmakers in the Sun Belt Conference, broke his right foot Saturday in a loss at Western Kentucky and is out indefinitely, head coach Tony Benford confirmed Wednesday.
The sophomore sat out the second game of a two-game road trip at Middle Tennessee on Monday and was examined by team doctors Wednesday.
Jones is averaging 10.2 points per game to go along with 5.0 assists — a total that ties him with Elfrid Payton of Louisiana-Lafayette for tops in the Sun Belt.
Jones played in 13 games and is not eligible for a medical redshirt.
The injury is a tough blow for UNT and Jones, who did not play the spring semester of last season when he was academically ineligible.
“I feel bad for Chris,” Benford said. “He is a great kid who has been great in the classroom and been accountable. He was starting to get back into a groove of playing and being a leader. He was still learning the point guard position, and now he gets hit with this. It’s really tough for him on a personal level and also for us as a team.”
Losing Jones will leave the Mean Green (5-9, 0-3 SBC) shorthanded against Troy (5-9, 0-3).
Jones was averaging 27.5 minutes a game. He was injured late in UNT’s loss to the Hilltoppers and was helped from the floor.
Benford said that UNT is hoping Jones will be able to return for the Sun Belt tournament, which begins March 8.
UNT will turn to a familiar solution and slide Alzee Williams from his shooting guard spot over to point guard. Williams started the last 13 games of the 2011-12 season at point guard after Jones was ruled ineligible.
Jordan Williams will move into UNT’s lineup at shooting guard, while freshman P.J. Hardwick will see additional time as the backup point guard.
“I feel comfortable with being in that role,” Alzee Williams said. “It’s a different system. I will have to get used to that. I have to learn how to run the team the way he [Benford] wants it to be run.”
Alzee Williams posted 54 assists and 41 turnovers in 32 games last season, when he averaged 10.5 points a game under former head coach Johnny Jones. Benford installed a new system after taking over in the offseason.
Williams is averaging 10.4 points a game this year and has 23 assists.
Benford and his players expressed confidence in Alzee Williams but acknowledged that UNT would have a different look without Jones on the floor.
“We are not going to get as much in transition,” Benford said. “With Chris in transition, he could pitch it to Alzee on one wing and Jordan on the other. It’s different with Chris because he can create for himself. He is our best creator; we will miss that.”
Jones is the second guard UNT has lost to injury this season. Senior Brandan Walton broke his foot in UNT’s season-opening loss to Creighton and is taking a medical redshirt. He averaged 8.8 points a game while starting 17 last season.
“It would be nice if we had another guard or two on the bench to help keep our legs fresh,” Alzee Williams said. “Jordan and I will have to play more minutes.”
Losing Jones also will force freshman Clarke Overlander to take on a larger role. The former Argyle standout has played sparingly.
Overlander and Hardwick will have to improve quickly to help UNT make up for the loss of Jones, one of its best perimeter defenders. The Mean Green ranks 306th nationally in 3-point field goal defense at 37.8 percent.
“We don’t have many perimeter defenders,” Benford said. “Clarke and P.J. are still learning.”
UNT will look to get both up to speed in a game the Mean Green looks at as a chance to turn its season around after losing three straight and falling to 0-3 in Sun Belt play.
“I told the guys this is a great opportunity for us at home to get back into the race,” Benford said. “[Troy] is a good team that is well-coached and can shoot the basketball.”
Antoine Myers and Emil Jones are each averaging 9.9 points for Troy. Tony Mitchell is posting 13.7 points and 8.9 rebounds a game for UNT.
“We have a lot of confidence in Alzee,” Jordan Williams said. “The same thing happened last year. Alzee stepped up and ran the team. P.J. can step in, too.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .