Men’s basketball: UNT gets right back on horse

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DRC/David Minton
North Texas forward Niko Stojiljkovic makes a pass under the basket against Middle Tennessee on Jan. 24 at the Super Pit.

North Texas won’t have a lot of time to sit and think about Thursday’s loss to Louisiana-Lafayette, not with a game at Arkansas State looming today.

That might not be a bad turn of events for the Mean Green.

UNT played one of its worst games in several years by just about any measure and was hammered 105-74 by ULL in its final appearance at the Cajundome for the foreseeable future.

UNT hit a host of low points, including suffering its worst setback in a Sun Belt Conference game since a 34-point loss to the Cajuns on Feb. 24, 2003. The 105 points UNT allowed tied the second-highest total the Mean Green has given up in a Sun Belt game in its 13 years in the league.

The loss was UNT’s third straight and left the Mean Green searching for answers as it heads down the stretch in its final season before making the jump to Conference USA.

“We have to look ourselves in the mirror and say, ‘What do I want out of this?’” UNT senior guard Roger Franklin said.

UNT had hoped to make a run at the regular-season Sun Belt title, a goal that is well out of reach now.

A more realistic goal for UNT (8-15, 3-9 SBC) is to find some momentum and improve its position for the upcoming Sun Belt tournament. Only Louisiana-Monroe has a worse record in the Sun Belt standings heading into the last few weeks of the season. The Warhawks are 2-9 in league play.

UNT has run into myriad problems, including a series of injuries that has left the Mean Green shorthanded all season.

UNT has been without Brandan Walton since he broke his foot in a season-opening loss to Creighton. UNT lost Chris Jones to a similar injury early in Sun Belt play, leaving the Mean Green without two key guards.

UNT coach Tony Benford revealed after the Mean Green’s loss to ULL that star forward Tony Mitchell is battling a foot injury that kept him out of practice for three days leading up to Thursday’s game.

Mitchell is one of the Sun Belt’s better defenders.

UNT struggled with him at less than 100 percent against ULL, especially in the second half. The Ragin’ Cajuns shot 62.9 percent (22 for 35) from the floor and outscored the Mean Green 60-37 after halftime.

“We didn’t do a good job of stopping anything, especially late,” Benford said.

ASU (13-8, 7-5) has been one of the Sun Belt’s best defensive teams all season and enters today’s game ranked second in scoring defense with an average of 62.7 points allowed per game.

Junior guard Ed Townsel is averaging 14.6 points a game to lead ASU, which has been tough to beat at home. The Red Wolves are 10-2 at the Convocation Center, with one of those losses coming against Murray State, one of the top teams in the Ohio Valley Conference.

UNT has lost three straight games in Jonesboro since picking up a 91-82 win on the Red Wolves’ home floor in the 2008-09 season.

UNT will look to a red-hot Jordan Williams to help it break through today.

Following Thursday’s loss, Benford called Williams UNT’s most consistent player in its last five games.

The sophomore scored a career-high 31 points against the Ragin’ Cajuns and has scored at least 20 points in three straight games.

Mitchell leads UNT with averages of 13.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, while Williams has improved his average to 13.0 points a night.

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


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