COLLEGE STATION — North Texas coach Tony Benford said he uses the zone defense sparingly. That might change following his team’s stellar defensive effort against Texas A&M on Tuesday.
The Mean Green stunned the Aggies 61-41. Maurice Aniefiok led the way with 16 points and Alzee Williams added 14.
“We did a great job executing our scouting report, keeping them out of the paint, getting to their shooters and rebounding the ball,” Benford said. “We’re getting better at sharing the ball.”
The Mean Green shot 51 percent (25-of-49) from the field, compared with 30 percent (15-of-50) for the Aggies.
A&M (8-4) struggled from the floor for a second consecutive game, after shooting 26.9 percent in a 64-52 setback to Oklahoma on Dec. 21 in Houston.
“I don’t know how to explain this,” A&M guard Alex Caruso said. “We just played really bad. I don’t know if we’ve even practiced this bad in a long time.”
UNT (8-5) of Conference USA was coming off an 81-77 home victory over Wayland Baptist on Dec. 21.
The Aggies had found solace at home until Tuesday, having won all eight of their previous home contests.
UNT (8-5) jumped on the Aggies early and roared to a 36-19 halftime lead. The Aggies, who were 4-of-18 (22 percent) from behind the 3-point line and 7-of-15 (47 percent) from the free-throw line, couldn’t overcome their shooting woes.
Alex Caruso led Texas A&M with 10 points.
A&M third-year coach Billy Kennedy apologized to Aggies fans after the game for his team’s showing.
“We’re not that bad, but we sure looked like it at times,” Kennedy said. “We’ve got to get our guys playing confident again.”
Meanwhile, UNT was better from long range (5-of-14 for 36 percent) than the Aggies were from anywhere on the court. The Mean Green outscored the Aggies 14-2 in fast-break points and tallied 13 steals, including three by Colin Voss.
“We just didn’t bring it today,” A&M forward Kourtney Roberson said. “We missed a lot of open shots, and we’ve got to get back in the gym and get our confidence back.”
UNT snapped a three-game losing streak to the Aggies, and narrowed A&M’s lead in the all-time series to 12-9.
The Aggies have only one nonconference game remaining (against Texas-Pan American on Saturday at Reed Arena) before Southeastern Conference play starts Jan. 8 against Arkansas.
“They’re going to win a lot of games in their league,” Benford said of the Aggies. “It was just our night tonight. With our zone they started pressing a little bit, and their shots weren’t falling. I’m proud of the effort we gave.”
UNT next plays host to California-Riverside on Saturday at the Super Pit before opening C-USA action at home against Southern Mississippi on Jan. 9.
As for Benford’s rare zone defense that was so effective against the Aggies?
“We stayed with it,” Benford said, “and our guys did a good job of getting to their shooters.”