MIAMI — Tony Mitchell has experienced some remarkable highs during his two seasons at North Texas.
Thursday’s game at Florida International represented the opposite end of the spectrum.
FIU sent wave after wave of defenders at the Sun Belt’s Preseason Player of the Year and held him scoreless on a night he took just three shots.
Roger Franklin and Niko Stojiljkovic posted career nights for the Mean Green, performances that turned out to be little more than a side note in the Mean Green’s 70-64 loss at U.S. Century Bank.
UNT (7-12, 2-6 Sun Belt) entered a two-game road trip for games at FIU and Florida Atlantic looking to build on a home win over South Alabama. That opportunity slipped away as the Mean Green lost for the sixth time in its last eight games.
UNT made a late run, cutting an 18-point second-half deficit to four in the closing minutes before FIU (9-8, 4-4) pulled away.
“As a team I don’t feel like we came to play,” Franklin said. “We played hard but not hard enough. They played to win. Once we realized we were down in the second half, we started to play harder, but by then it was too late.”
A performance that was flat at times was just one of the baffling aspects of the game for UNT. What was even more unusual was seeing Mitchell become largely uninvolved in UNT’s offense. The sophomore entered the night averaging 14.6 points a game and was shut out for the first time in his career.
His previous career low was three points in a loss to Louisiana-Lafayette this season.
Mitchell did block four shots and set a new UNT career record with 123, surpassing the 119 Jeffrey Simpson posted from 2004-06, but that was of little consolation.
Mitchell was not available for comment after the game.
“We want Tony to shoot the ball,” UNT coach Tony Benford said. “He had looks. He has to take more shots. He only had two rebounds. That’s not him. We have to put him in spots where he can shoot the ball.”
Franklin scored a career-high 29 points, while Stojiljkiovic added a career-high 13 points. Alzee Williams also had 13 points.
Tymell Murphy scored 22 points to lead three players in double figures for FIU.
“Roger played well, Benford said. “When they took away Tony, Roger had open shots. He was aggressive.”
FIU sat back in a zone all night and ran multiple defenders at Mitchell, who never got on track.
“That is what every team is going to do,” Franklin said. “We have to find a way to make the big fellow a little more aggressive and get him more shots.”
UNT turned to Franklin to fill the void and got off to a good start. The Mean Green led 20-14 after Franklin scored eight early points.
UNT went cold the rest of the half, which FIU closed on a 22-4 run to lead 36-24 at halftime.
The Mean Green turned the ball over 13 times in the first half. UNT shot 55 percent (11-for-20) from the floor, but FIU took care of the ball and took 32 shots and four free throws.
UNT shot just two free throws in the first half to go along with its 20 shots from the floor.
UNT turned to freshman P.J. Hardwick to handle the ball for most of the night in his homecoming. Hardwick grew up in Miami and had several dozen family members and friends in the stands. He finished with four points.
“They pressed, we couldn’t score and turned the ball over,” Benford said of the reasons behind FIU’s run. “P.J. got caught up a little bit in coming home. He had eight turnovers and two quick fouls. They did a good job of mixing up their defenses and keeping the ball out of Tony’s hands.”
UNT answered, but not until late in the second half when the Mean Green whittled its deficit to 63-59 on a 3-point play from Franklin with 1:07 left.
Cameron Bell iced the game for FIU with 52 seconds left by hitting a pair of free throws.
That left UNT to ponder how to get Mitchell on track and why it can’t pull out of a late-season funk.
“They did a good job of mixing their defenses and keeping the ball out of Tony’s hands,” Benford said.
UNT had few options, due to injuries. The Mean Green had six players on the floor for at least 23 minutes. Justin Patton and Keith Coleman played six and five minutes, respectively.
Being shorthanded made it all the more important for UNT to get everything it could out of everyone, including Mitchell. UNT didn’t get a single point from its star player on a night Benford and his players thought they didn’t give their best effort as a team.
“I don’t know why we didn’t come out with more urgency,” Benford said. “I will figure that out.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
Florida International 70, North Texas 64
NORTH TEXAS (7-12, 2-6) — A. Williams 4-9 4-6 13, Hardwick 1-4 2-2 4, T. Mitchell 0-3 0-0 0, J. Williams 2-6 0-0 4, Franklin 11-15 7-8 29, A. Mitchell 0-0 0-0 0, Patton 0-0 1-2 1, Stojiljkovic 3-5 5-7 13, Coleman 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-43 19-25 64.
FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (9-8, 4-4) — Frink 3-11 0-0 6, Bell 4-14 3-5 12, Murphy 11-16 0-1 22, Smith 3-12 8-10 17, Akomolafe 0-0 0-0 0, Hill 2-2 0-0 5, Porcher Jimenez 2-5 0-0 5, Belardo 1-2 0-0 3, Ferrales 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 26-64 11-16 70.
Halftime — FIU 36-24. 3-point goals — UNT 3-7 (A. Williams 1-3, T. Mitchell 0-1, J. Williams 0-1, Stojiljkovic 2-2), FIU 7-23 (Frink 0-3, Bell 1-5, Smith 3-9, Hill 1-1, Porcher Jimenez 1-3, Belardo 1-1, Ferrales 0-1). Fouled out — J. Williams. Rebounds — UNT 34 (Hardwick, Franklin 8), FIU 31 (Frink 10). Assists — UNT 12 (Hardwick 3), FIU 12 (Hill 4). Total fouls — UNT 18, FIU 17. A 1,109.