Men's basketball: UNT to begin key trip

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North Texas spent some extra time this week talking about where it has been and where it hopes to go the rest of the season.

The Mean Green always gets together early following off days to watch film and talk. Coach Tony Benford and his players thought they got a lot out of their latest meeting, one that they feel prepared them for a key two-game road trip that will begin today with a 6 p.m. game at Marshall.

UNT dropped its first two games in Conference USA play to Southern Mississippi and Tulane and will look to bounce back this week.

The Mean Green (9-7, 0-2 C-USA) will travel to Charlotte (10-5, 1-1) for a game Saturday after facing Marshall (6-11, 0-2).

“We are going to be just fine,” UNT guard Jordan Williams said. “We had a long meeting, talked about the game [the loss to Tulane] and what we need to do to turn it around. We have to play harder and play with effort.”

Benford and his players say they weren’t too far off in close losses to Southern Miss (74-64) and the Green Wave (73-62). UNT trailed Southern Miss by one in the second half and trailed by seven late against Tulane.

“This is a good group with mature guys,” Benford said. “A couple of older guys spoke up and talked about what they needed to do and everyone understanding their roles.”

There is a sense of urgency for UNT to get back to the form that saw the Mean Green beat Texas A&M on New Year’s Eve, considering its upcoming slate. UNT will host UAB and Middle Tennessee, which were 11-4 and 11-5, respectively, heading into this week’s games.

“This is definitely an important road trip,” UNT guard Brandan Walton said. “We want to go out there strong and get two wins. That would get our confidence up. These are two very good teams.”

Fortunately for UNT, Marshall likely will be at less than full strength. Senior forward Elijah Pittman, who is averaging 21.4 points per game, has been suspended indefinitely. Freshman guard Kareem Canty has helped pick up the slack and is averaging 16.4 points per game.

Benford said that he is impressed with Canty.

Following back-to-back losses, UNT could turn to transfer T.J. Taylor to help provide a spark and counter the offensive punch that Canty gives Marshall. The Marquette transfer scored 19 points in UNT’s loss to Tulane and has become healthier as the season has progressed.

Taylor missed the first two games of the season with a knee injury.

“One guy we have to get into the lineup is T.J. Taylor,” Benford said. “He is our most versatile player. He can shoot the 3, score in the midrange, pass it and score at the rim. We need to get him more minutes.”

If UNT can get Taylor going on a regular basis, he could add another dimension to an already loaded backcourt. Senior guard Alzee Williams and Jordan Williams are averaging 13.0 and 11.3 points, respectively.

UNT needs wins on the road this week and could change its lineup in the hope that a different look will get the Mean Green on track before it returns home for tough games against MTSU and UAB.

“Anytime you go on the road you want to split,” Benford said. “We just need a win. We feel like we let two get away.”

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


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