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Nati Harnik - Associated Press

Men's basketball: No. 16 Jays spoil UNT debut for Benford

Profile image for By Eric Olson / Associated Press
By Eric Olson / Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. — Doug McDermott had 21 points and 11 rebounds to lead No. 16 Creighton to a season-opening 71-51 victory over North Texas on Friday night.

About a dozen NBA scouts were on hand to watch McDermott, a returning first-team All-American, and UNT’s Tony Mitchell, projected as a possible lottery pick if he turns pro after this season.

Mitchell, who averaged a double-double last season, finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and three dunks.

Creighton led 39-25 at halftime and opened the second half on a 14-5 run, with Avery Dingman making back-to-back 3-pointers to stretch it to 53-30.

Tony Benford, a Marquette assistant for four years before replacing Johnny Jones at North Texas, lost in his head coaching debut.

Austin Chatman added 11 points and reserve Avery Dingman had 10 for the Bluejays, who have won 39 straight regular-season home games in November.

“I want to give Creighton a ton of credit,” Benford said. “They are a great basketball team that is well coached. They shoot the ball so well, and they don’t get enough credit for what they do on the defensive end of the floor. That being said, we have to do a better job of executing.”

Creighton returned nine of its top 10 players from last season’s 29-6 team, which won a game in the NCAA tournament. Seven of those players scored during a 26-12 first-half burst that broke open the game.

Bluejays coach Greg McDermott prodded his team to improve its defense after it ranked 222nd nationally in field-goal defense last season. The Mean Green, favored to win the Sun Belt Conference, shot 32 percent.

McDermott and Mitchell were teammates two summers ago on the under-19 Team USA squad that played in Latvia, and they remain friends.

McDermott, a 6-foot-8 junior, scored in double figures for the 37th straight game. He fought off double teams to go 6-of-11 from the field, and he made all eight of his free throws.

Eschenique, Will Artino and Ethan Wragge took turns guarding Mitchell, but there was only so much they could do against the versatile 6-foot-8, 235-pound sophomore forward.

Mitchell’s first points came after he stepped in front of an Austin Chatman pass meant for Echenique and took it in for a rim-rattling dunk. He hit the Mean Green’s only 3-pointer of the first half, batted away Andre Yates’ shot in the lane for the first of his two blocks, then went down to the other end and scored on a putback dunk.

Mitchell picked up his fourth foul with 13 minutes left. By then, Missouri Valley Conference favorite Creighton led by 21 points, and it didn’t matter that he sat out the next five minutes.

Advertised as the greatest athlete to come out of North Texas since “Mean” Joe Green of 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers fame, Mitchell was one of two freshmen to average a double-double last season. The other was national player of the year Anthony Davis of Kentucky.

UNT now heads to Manhattan, Kan., for the opening round of the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Mean Green will face Alabama-Huntsville on Monday, followed by either Lamar or Kansas State.