North Texas already had experienced more than its share of injuries and the havoc they cause long before Monday, when a tough situation for the Mean Green got a little bit worse.
Clarke Overlander, one of the last healthy guards UNT had left on its roster, was going through team drills when forward Keith Coleman fell on his leg.
By Tuesday afternoon, Overlander joined a growing number of players on the sideline during practice with what UNT’s coaches and trainers fear is a torn meniscus in his right knee. Overlander will miss the Mean Green’s game at Arkansas-Little Rock on Thursday and could be out the rest of the season, depending on a final diagnosis that is expected by tonight.
The injury is the latest in a series that has left UNT without several key guards. Forward Jacob Holmen also is expected to miss his third straight game with plantar fasciitis.
UNT lost shooting guard Brandan Walton to a broken foot in its season-opening loss to Creighton and lost starting point guard Chris Jones to a broken foot in a Dec. 29 loss to Western Kentucky.
UNT also is without T.J. Taylor, a Marquette transfer it hoped would be ruled eligible by the NCAA this season. Taylor had shoulder surgery after the NCAA ruled that he would have to sit out this season as a transfer.
UNT coach Tony Benford said there is a chance Overlander will be out for the year.
“We are playing a lot of guys out of position right now,” Benford said. “We are trying to manage it, mix and match, and do some different things. We are really changing some things up as far as what we are doing offensively and defensively right now. We have to. We don’t have the numbers and the bodies to do the things we would like to.”
Overlander saw his role expand over the last few weeks after UNT saw its options dwindle in the backcourt. The former Argyle standout had hit a 3-pointer in three straight games before missing his only attempt in a loss to Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday.
“It’s going to be tough, but we can handle it,” UNT forward Justin Patton said. “We have to come together as a team, keep getting better every day in practice and do what our coaches tell us to do. We will be all right.”
Patton is one of several players who could see their roles change, especially if Overlander is lost for the year.
Patton and senior forward Niko Stojiljkovic will play more on the perimeter. Small forward Jordan Williams will move to shooting guard, and walk-on Austin Mitchell will see time at point guard.
Tony Mitchell, UNT’s top player, also will play more on the perimeter, which will open more time for Coleman in the post.
“We have to make some changes and simplify some things that we do because guys are learning new positions,” Benford said. “We want to make it as simple as possible. We will also play more zone.”
Making those adjustments during a time when so many players have been in and out of the lineup has made the task tougher.
“It’s tough to establish continuity with everyone out, whether it is for discipline or injuries,” Benford said. “I have never been around a team with as many injuries in my 21 years.”
Benford sees improvement
Benford says UNT is starting to see the benefit of his emphasis on becoming a better team defensively.
UNT held Troy in check in a 76-59 win before allowing 80 points for the first time in four games in an 81-68 loss to Louisiana-Monroe.
The Mean Green ranks eighth out of 11 teams in the Sun Belt with an average of 68.9 points allowed per game but is holding opponents to 41.9 percent shooting, a total that ranks fourth in the league.
“We were leading the league going into our last game in field-goal percentage defense,” Benford said. “We want to be known as a defensive-oriented team that can attack in transition and execute in the halfcourt.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .