Men's basketball: UNT playing with options in backcourt

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North Texas has been in something of an experimental phase in the early part of its season when it comes to its backcourt lineup.

Head coach Tony Benford and his players see that as a positive heading into the Mean Green’s home game at 7 tonight against Nicholls State. They view the moves UNT has made early in the season as an indication of just how many good options the Mean Green has at its disposal.

UNT started a three-guard lineup that included Vertrail Vaughns, Brandan Walton and Alzee Williams on Monday in a loss to Oklahoma that saw the Mean Green trail by just four in the second half. The Mean Green used that look three days after it rolled out the familiar look of Chris Jones, Jordan Williams and Alzee Williams for its season opener against Northwood.

The Mean Green flopped back and forth between the looks in its two exhibition games and likely will have even more options to consider tonight when highly regarded transfer T.J. Taylor is expected to make his season debut.

“We have nine guys who can start,” Walton said. “Everyone who is playing is capable of starting and producing high-quality minutes. We are not sure how it will go, but Coach is striving to put the best five out there. Having nine guys who can start shows how deep we are.”

That depth bodes well for UNT, which is still in the process of feeling out how it will handle its rotation as it heads into a game against the Colonels (0-1).

UNT (1-1) struggled to pull away from Northwood, an NAIA team it was expected to handle easily, in its 72-67 season-opening win, but came back with an impressive performance in a 95-82 loss to the Sooners.

“The Oklahoma game showed that we can compete with the best and showed us what we need to do to take our game to the next level,” Vaughns said. “We have to show intensity through the entire game and get more stops. We need to communicate better.”

UNT’s communication should improve the more its guards play together. Vaughns is in his first season at UNT after transferring from George Mason. Introducing Taylor to the mix will give UNT more to adjust to in terms of its rotation.

“We are still feeling it out,” Benford said. “We put those three senior captains out there [Alzee Williams, Vaughns and Walton against Oklahoma]. They are pretty solid defensively and got us off to a good start. All three of those guys can initiate the offense and make plays off the bounce. It’s defensively oriented, but Brandan and Vertrail are good shooters.”

No one has been shooting better for UNT early in the season than Alzee Williams, who scored 24 points against Oklahoma and 22 against Norhwood. The senior is the first player since Chris Smith in 1996-97 to open the season with two 20-point games.

Alzee Williams also is the only member of UNT’s gaggle of guards to start all four of the Mean Green’s games, including its two exhibitions.

Jones and Jordan Williams have started for big chunks of their careers but performed well off the bench against the Sooners. Jones scored 16 points, while Williams added 13.

UNT is hoping for a similar performance when it takes on Nicholls State, which lost its season opener 76-54 at Auburn.

“I like their team,” Benford said. “They shoot it well, execute in the halfcourt and are well coached. It will be a challenge.”

UNT is confident it can handle that challenge, largely because it has so many good options in its backcourt.

“We will go with the flow,” Vaughns said. “Whoever is playing well in practice is going to start. I don’t see anyone who can’t start. We can go with the hot hand.”

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.


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