Men’s basketball: Williams’ play helps keep UNT hopeful of turning season around

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David Minton/DRC
North Texas guard Jordan Williams, shown driving to the basket against Louisiana-Monroe’s Amos Olatayo in January at the Super Pit, is hitting 50 percent of his 3-point shots over the past eight games.

On any given weekday, in the 30 minutes or so before North Texas begins practice, there is a good chance Jordan Williams is running through his routine.

The sophomore starts out on the perimeter — sometimes on the baseline, other times on the wing — and begins hoisting shots.

One after another, with perfect backspin they arc toward the rim with a teammate or manager tossing ball after ball his way.

More often than not, the shots Williams takes settle into the net as he displays the balance and form that has made him one of the Sun Belt Conference’s most consistent shooters and scorers late in the season.

Williams hasn’t scored less than 14 points in a game in a month and enters the Mean Green’s game against Florida Atlantic (12-16, 7-10 Sun Belt) tonight averaging a team-high 14.1 points a game.

In a season when seemingly nothing has gone right — from a series of key injuries to a host of stunning upset losses — Williams’ performance has been a bright spot.

His play is also a big reason UNT (10-18, 5-12) retains hope of turning things around before the SBC tournament next month.

“I feel really good about the way I’ve been playing,” Williams said. “I’ve been getting a lot of shots up. Coach tells me that if I’m open, to shoot it. The key has been getting in the gym to work on my shot and taking open shots when they are there.”

Those shots were there Saturday in a 63-61 win over Troy that will give UNT a chance tonight to win back-to-back games for the first time since December.

Williams hit all but two of the 11 shots he took against Troy on his way to scoring a game-high 25 points.

UNT went on a 9-0 run against the Trojans late in the second half that put the Mean Green up for good.

Williams made arguably the two biggest plays during that surge. He used a back cut to get by his defender for a baseline dunk to start the run and hit his seventh 3 of the game a short time later to put UNT up 58-54.

Williams also made an overlooked play in the final three minutes when he drove and found Alzee Williams in the corner for an open jumper. Alzee Williams connected on the shot to put UNT ahead 62-56 in a game the Mean Green needed every point it could get to win.

Jordan Williams is making those plays more and more often after getting back into the flow of the game. The former Dallas Kimball standout missed the second semester of last season after he was ruled academically ineligible.

“Jordan has been working and has improved his shot throughout the year” UNT head coach Tony Benford said. “Confidence plays a factor. He missed half of last year and is just now starting to understand the game, not settling for the 3 and attacking the rim. He is one of the best I have ever been around when it comes to finishing in transition, and once you start hitting layups, that basket looks bigger.”

UNT desperately needs Williams to shoot with confidence, especially from behind the 3-point arc, considering the situation it is facing.

UNT lost its best 3-point shooter in Brandan Walton to a broken foot in its season-opening loss to Creighton. Forwards Jacob Holmen and Justin Patton have since been lost for the year — Holmen due to repeated concussions and Patton to a knee injury.

Those losses have left UNT with few options for outside shooting.

The Mean Green ranks 332nd out of 347 teams nationally in 3-point shooting at 28.6 percent, a statistic that is even more telling when one considers that Williams ranks 10th in the Sun Belt at 35.4 percent, significantly boosting UNT’s average as a team.

More often than not, opponents have been content to collapse on UNT’s star power forward Tony Mitchell and let the Mean Green fire away from outside.

UNT went 2 for 34 from 3-point range in a three-game stretch against Jackson State, Southeastern Louisiana and Lehigh in December.

Williams’ performance of late could force opponents to rethink that strategy, which could open the interior for Mitchell. Williams is shooting 50 percent (24 for 48) from 3-point range in UNT’s last eight games.

If players start challenging Williams at the 3-point line, it will open driving opportunities for him and perhaps, more importantly, passing lanes to get the ball inside to Mitchell and fellow forward Roger Franklin.

That seems a more likely possibility after Williams worked on his shooting form early in the season. Williams said he was often off balance when he took 3s. Now he has better balance and is having more success as a result.

“The first half of the season, I was getting back into the groove,” Williams said. “The second half of the season, I’ve been playing well. It’s something I can build on if I keep playing hard.”

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

 


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