Men’s basketball: Carrying the load

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University of North Texas freshman guard P.J. Hardwick (4) grabs a loose ball ahead of Troy junior forward Westley Hinton (33), Thursday, January 3, 2013, at the Super Pit in Denton, TX.
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Mitchell sparks shorthanded UNT to win over Troy

North Texas didn’t have its starting point guard, its starting small forward or one of its top frontcourt reserves for its game against Troy on Thursday at the Super Pit.

What the Mean Green did have was Tony Mitchell.

That was more than enough for the Mean Green in a battle between the last two teams in the Sun Belt Conference without a win in league play.

Mitchell posted a double-double 29 points and 15 rebounds — both season highs — in front of the collection of NBA scouts who have followed his every move this season, and the Mean Green cruised to a much-needed 76-59 win.

UNT (6-9, 1-3 Sun Belt) had lost three straight, including a pair of conference games at Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee.

“It’s been a tough season,” Mitchell said. “We have had a lot of injuries and have gone through adversity. Coach told us that it is about character.”

UNT was without Chris Jones for a second straight game. The Mean Green’s starting point guard went down with a broken foot in UNT’s loss to WKU and will be out at least until the Sun Belt tournament.

What made matters worse was Jacob Holmen and Keith Coleman also were on the bench against Troy (5-10, 0-4). Holmen has a foot injury that will keep him out a week, while Coleman was suspended one game for a violation of team rules.

UNT is already without Brandan Walton, who is out for the year with a broken foot.

“I looked around and had more guys in black and gray sweat suits than guys on the bench,” UNT coach Tony Benford said. “Hopefully we’ll get some of them healthy.”

UNT turned to Mitchell to carry a heavy load and saw the Sun Belt’s Preseason Player of the Year respond.

Mitchell went 9-for-17 from the floor, hit all but two of his 12 free throws and even hit a 3-pointer in an efficient offensive outing.

Mitchell also blocked four shots and was a force at the defensive end.

“Tony came up to me right before shootaround, and even mentioned when we were at Western Kentucky, and said, ‘I need to turn this thing up,’” Benford said. “Other teams are putting two or three guys on him, but tonight he kept moving his feet and posted strong. We got it to him early and he made quick moves. I told him that I would rather him shoot it than pass it. That is what he did tonight. He has to continue to do that, because he can put those numbers up every night.”

Mitchell credited his teammates for getting him the ball in position to score, including P.J. Hardwick. The freshman point guard made his first start and finished with seven assists.

UNT brought Alzee Williams, who started at point guard against MTSU in the Mean Green’s first game without Jones, off the bench.

The result was one of the Mean Green’s more efficient outings of the season, especially in halfcourt situations. Jordan Williams finished with 12 points, while Alzee Williams and Roger Franklin each added 10.

UNT shot 48.3 percent (28-for-58) from the floor on the night, including 50 percent (15-for-30) in the second half.

Benford credited UNT’s performance largely to Hardwick, who led a solid all-around offensive game for the Mean Green.

“It finally carried over from practice,” Jordan Williams said. “We have been running the plays really well in practice. We have been really fluid. We have to keep building on that.”

Westley Hinton scored 13 points to lead Troy, a team that lives and dies with the 3-point shot. The Trojans went just 5-for-23 from behind the arc against the Mean Green.

“Our team defense was as good as it has been all year long, as far as contesting 3-point shooters and containing the basketball,” Benford said.

UNT was especially good defensively early and ran out to a 13-0 lead. Troy didn’t score until R.J. Scott hit a 3 at the 12:47 mark of the first half.

The Trojans got back into the game with a 9-2 run that cut their deficit to 15-9.

Troy pulled to within 30-27 on a pair of free throws from Westley Hinton before UNT answered with a 7-0 run behind Mitchell, who hit four free throws during the surge. Mitchell scored 16 points in the first half and helped UNT grab a 39-29 edge at the break.

UNT maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way on a night when Mitchell carried a shorthanded team.

“I didn’t try to force it,” Mitchell said. “We have a great coaching staff. Those guys drew up plays that got me to good spots where I can score, and I got to the free throw line. My teammates got me involved. It was a team effort.”

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is bvito@dentonrc.com

North Texas 76, Troy 59

TROY (5-10, 0-4) — Calhoun 2-7 0-0 4, Chambers 5-8 1-1 11, Myers 1-3 2-2 4, Mullahey 0-2 0-0 0, Jones 2-9 1-2 5, Scott 1-8 0-0 3, Williams 3-14 2-2 10, Jethroe 3-4 0-0 7, Warren1-1 0-0 2, Westley 4-7 4-6 13, Muwallif 0-1 0-0 0, Dixon 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-64 10-13 59.

NORTH TEXAS (6-9, 1-3) — Patton 2-4 0-2 4, T. Mitchell 9-17 10-12 29, Franklin 4-11 1-2 10, Hardwick 1-2 0-0 2, J. Williams 4-8 4-5 12, A. Williams 4-6 1-1 10, A. Mitchell 0-0 0-0 0, Overlander 1-7 0-0 3, Stojiljkovic 3-3 0-0 6. Totals 28-58 16-22 76.

Halftime — UNT 39-29. 3-point goals — Troy 5-23 (Calhoun 0-5, Mullahey 0-2, Jones 0-1, Scott 1-5, Williams 2-8, Jethroe 1-1, Hinton 1-1), UNT 4-12 (Mitchell 1-3, Franklin 1-1, J. Williams 0-1, A. Williams 1-1, Overlander 1-6). Fouled out — none. Rebounds — Troy 38 (Hinton 9), UNT 40 (Mitchell 15). Assists — Troy 10 (Jones 4), UNT 14 (Hardwick 7). Total fouls — Troy 17, UNT 12. A — 2,338.


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