LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — North Texas was warming up for its game at the Jack Stephens Center on Thursday when an Arkansas-Little Rock player on the bench asked a teammate a question that seemed to say it all for the Mean Green.
“Where’s the rest of their team.”
There were only eight UNT players on the floor at the time, which was all the Mean Green had to work with on another tough night.
UNT had just seven scholarship players and a walk-on physically able to play and eventually wore down in a 67-53 loss.
The loss was UNT’s fifth in its last six games, leaving the Mean Green (6-11) with a 1-5 record in Sun Belt Conference play. The mark is UNT’s worst through six league games since the 2002-03 season.
“We are not going to use that as an excuse,” UNT coach Tony Benford said. “We have seven scholarship players tonight. It’s tough. This is the group we have, and it’s probably going to be the group we have on Saturday as well.”
UNT has seen its key players go down with injuries all season long and saw the situation get worse just before its game against UALR (10-8, 4-3). Senior Justin Patton, who missed the first two games of the season after having surgery on his right knee, saw it flare up again and was unable to play against the Trojans.
Patton had started UNT’s last two games in place of Jacob Holmen, who is out with plantar fasciitis.
UNT also was without backup guard Clarke Overlander, who was lost when he sprained the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in practice Monday. UNT already had lost guards Chris Jones and Brandan Walton for the year with broken bones in their feet.
“At first I didn’t think it would matter being down to seven guys, but it takes its toll after a while,” UNT guard Alzee Williams said. “They started to get to the 50-50 balls that we didn’t.”
That was especially true during the key part of the game, an 18-2 UALR run in the second half.
UNT took a 42-36 lead with 14:20 left on a Tony Mitchell 3-pointer. Nothing went right for UNT from that point, as UALR went on its run over the span of 6:58.
The only points UNT scored during the run were on a jumper that backup center Keith Coleman hit with the shot clock running out. The Mean Green went 1-for-6 from the field and turned the ball over four times during UALR’s key run.
“We took timeouts and called a couple of different plays,” Benford said. “We missed a couple of layups and couldn’t score. When you can’t score, you have to get stops, and we couldn’t get stops.”
James White led the Trojans with 16 points and Will Neighbour added 11. Kemy Osse hit just two shots — a pair of 3-pointers — but they were well timed.
Osse’s treys came back-to-back after Coleman banked in his jumper to give UNT a 44-42 lead. UALR was off and running after Osse gave the Trojans the lead for good.
Williams and Tony Mitchell each scored 13 points to lead the Mean Green, which appeared as if it might pick up a key road win after a solid first half.
UNT led 32-27 at halftime after closing on an 8-3 run behind Williams.
The junior scored six straight points for UNT, highlighted by a 3 from the wing. Roger Franklin hit a jumper at the buzzer to give the Mean Green its largest lead of the half.
“In the first half, we were patient and took good shots,” Williams said. “In the second half, when they came back and tied it up, we started to force shots.”
UNT scored just 21 points in the second half, its lowest total this season.
What made matters worse for UNT was that UALR was highly efficient after halftime, shooting 60 percent (18-for-30) from the floor.
“We didn’t get stops in the second half,” Mitchell said. “We have to put 40 minutes together. We only have seven guys, but it comes down to playing basketball. This happened to us last year as well. We have to find a way to win.”
UNT likely will face a similar situation Saturday at home against South Alabama. Benford said Patton is unlikely to be ready to play against the Jaguars.
“We have to get wins,” Benford said. “That’s the bottom line. We have to protect home and get wins. No one cares that we only have seven players.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
Arkansas-Little Rock 67, North Texas 53
NORTH TEXAS (6-11, 1-5) — A. Williams 5-9 1-2 13, Hardwick 2-7 4-4 8, T. Mitchell 5-11 2-4 13, J. Williams 3-6 3-5 9, Franklin 3-10 2-2 8, A. Mitchell 0-0 0-0 0, Stojiljkovic 0-1 0-0 0, Coleman 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 19-47 12-17 53.
ARKANSAS-LITTLE ROCK (10-8, 4-3) — Javes 2-5 0-0 4, Neighbour 4-9 0-1 9, Hagins 5-9 0-1 11, Isler 3-8 0-0 7, Dillard 3-7 2-4 8, Osse 2-4 0-0 6, Billings 0-0 0-0 0, Crass 0-0 0-0 0, Lockhart 2-2 0-0 4, White 7-12 2-4 16, Leeper 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 29-57 4-10 67.
Halftime — UNT 32-27. 3-point goals — UNT 3-9 (A. Williams 2-3, Mitchell 1-4, J. Williams 0-1, Franklin 0-1), UALR 5-9 (Neighbour 1-1, Hagins 1-3, Isler 1-2, Dillard 0-1, Osse 2-2). Fouledout — none. Rebounds — UNT 32 (Franklin 7), UALR 30 (Neighbour 11). Assists — UNT 8 (Stojiljkovic 3), UALR 18 (Hagins 8). Total fouls — UNT 11, UALR 12. A — 3,288.