LAFAYETTE, La. — Throughout the course of his short time at North Texas, Tony Mitchell has shown the ability to make the spectacular play that can change the course of a game.
For a while, it appeared as if the sophomore might have come up with another one in the Mean Green’s game against Louisiana-Lafayette on Thursday at the Cajundome.
UNT came back from an early 17-point deficit and was within four when Mitchell swatted a shot from Shawn Long into the Cajuns’ bench early in the second half.
The play turned out to be a huge momentum swing, but not for the Mean Green.
Mitchell drew a technical foul on the play, one that sent ULL off and running and UNT spinning out of control in a historic 105-74 loss.
“This is the most embarrassing loss in my life,” UNT senior Roger Franklin said. “I have never been on a team that gave up 105. All I can really say is … nothing.”
The loss was UNT’s worst in a conference game since a 94-60 setback against ULL in the 2002-03 season.
And that was just one of the forgettable milestones the Mean Green reached.
UNT has only given up more points than it allowed to the Ragin’ Cajuns just once during its 13 seasons in the Sun Belt Conference, back in its first season in the league in 2000-01, when the Mean Green lost 107-63 to Western Kentucky.
UNT lost to Middle Tennessee 105-71 that same year.
There were several reasons UNT (8-15, 3-9 Sun Belt) suffered its third straight loss in such embarrassing fashion, from a terrible night defensively to the way ULL (8-15, 4-8) continued to pour it on late in one of the Ragin’ Cajuns’ best all-around nights in recent years.
When UNT’s coaches and players looked back, they said the technical foul was a huge factor.
The foul was Mitchell’s fourth, and it came at the 17:55 mark of the second half, with plenty of time remaining. UNT had just nine scholarship players available, and several of them were in foul trouble.
“It was a huge play when they called the technical on Tony,” Benford said. “One of their coaches baited Tony into talking. He said something to Tony, he responded and they gave him a technical. That was his fourth foul. You can’t do that. On my bench, we are not talking to kids on opposing teams. I never say anything to kids on opposing teams. That’s unfortunate that it happened, but we have to keep our poise.”
UNT’s players said they failed to do that.
Elfrid Payton hit both technical free throws to start an 8-0 ULL run.
UNT was still in the game after Jordan Williams hit a pair of free throws to pull the Mean Green to within 71-61.
That was when the wheels came off for UNT. The Ragin’ Cajuns went on an 18-0 run and turned the game into a blowout.
Mitchell, the Preseason Player of the Year in the Sun Belt, has never fared well against ULL. The 6-foot-8 sophomore was averaging 14.1 points a game this season, but had managed just 6.5 points in four previous games against ULL.
Mitchell managed just seven points in 25 minutes against the Ragin’ Cajuns on Thursday and was not available for comment after the game. Benford said that Mitchell was favoring a sprained foot that had kept him out of practice the last three days.
Jordan Williams led UNT with a career-high 31 points, Alzee Williams added 14 and Franklin 10.
Payton scored 24, Long 23 and Bryant Mbamalu 18 for ULL, which shot 62.9 percent (22-for-35) in the second half, when the Ragin’ Cajuns outscored UNT 60-37.
“They made every shot,” Jordan Williams said. “We were contesting them, but they also got some easy baskets and hit their free throws.”
Some of those shots came early in the first half when ULL jumped all over UNT and ran out to a 31-14 lead.
What made matters worse for UNT was seeing two players get into early foul trouble on a night it already was shorthanded.
Starting point guard P.J. Hardwick picked up his third foul with 8:45 left in the first half. Franklin also picked up three early fouls. Both played just 11 minutes before halftime.
Hardwick ended up fouling out.
UNT was shorthanded coming into the game but still managed to pull to within 45-37 at halftime, thanks largely to a big half from Jordan Williams. The sophomore scored 18 points in the first half on 8-of-11 shooting.
“I thought Jordan played well,” Benford said. “He has been our most consistent player our last five games. We just have to get some other guys to be more consistent playing alongside him.”
Mitchell hit all three shots he took.
UNT’s problem was it couldn’t keep pace with ULL. The 45 first-half points ULL scored was its high this season, surpassing the 39 points it scored in the opening period of its first game against UNT.
Once Mitchell picked up his technical, the Ragin’ Cajuns appeared nearly unstoppable.
“Once their engine started, they stepped on the gas pedal and never looked in their rearview mirror,” Franklin said. “They killed us. They obliterated us.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com
LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE 105, UNT 74
NORTH TEXAS (8-15, 3-9) — T. Mitchell 3-4 0-0 7, Stojiljkovic 0-0 0-0 0, Hardwick 1-4 0-0 2, J. Williams 12-17 5-11 31, Franklin 4-10 2-2 10, A. Williams 5-10 4-5 14, A. Mitchell 0-0 0-0 0, Patton 0-4 2-2 2, Overlander 1-3 1-2 3, Coleman 1-3 3-4 5. Totals 27-55 17-26 74.
LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE (8-15, 4-8) — Long 9-20 2-3 23, Moore 5-8 0-1 10, Payton 7-13 10-13 24, Wronkoski 2-2 0-0 6, Thompson 3-5 0-0 9, Mbamalu 6-15 4-4 18, Soto 1-2 2-2 4, Shepherd 3-4 0-0 7, LeBlanc 1-1 0-0 2, Lazare 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 38-71 18-23 105.
Halftime — ULL 45-37. 3-point goals — UNT 3-8 (Mitchell 1-1, J. Williams 2-4, Patton 0-1, Overlander 0-2), ULL 11-22 (Long 3-3, Payton 0-2, Wronkoski 2-2, Thompson 3-5, Mbamalu 2-8, Soto m0-1, Shepherd 1-1). Fouled out — Hardwick. Rebounds — UNT 27 (Mitchell, Hardwick 5), ULL 38 (Long 13). Assists — UNT 9 (A. Williams 3), ULL 19 (Payton 9). Total fouls — UNT 17, ULL 17. Technical fouls — UNT: T. Mitchell, Hardwick, bench. A — 2,249.