HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — North Texas was hoping to turn its Conference USA season around during its first road trip in league play.
So far, so good.
UNT posted one of its best all-around performances of the year and broke through to blast Marshall 80-65 on Thursday at the Cam Henderson Center.
The win was the Mean Green’s first in C-USA play in its inaugural season in the league and couldn’t have come at a much better time after UNT lost its first two conference games at home.
The Mean Green (10-7, 1-2 C-USA) was in danger of falling even deeper into the conference basement in a matchup of teams that were 0-2 in league play entering the night.
“Both teams needed a win,” UNT coach Tony Benford said. “There was no doubt. We struggled at home last week. We had to come in with great energy and great focus.”
UNT had both on a night it dominated from start to finish and could point to positives with the way it played on both ends of the floor against the Thundering Herd (6-12, 0-3).
Benford has emphasized the importance of improving UNT’s transition game since the beginning of the season.
UNT reached that goal as it was credited with 16 fastbreak points and shot 50 percent (28-for-56) from the field.
That performance reminded Benford and his players of the way they played this season in a win over Texas A&M — by far the Mean Green’s biggest victory of the year.
“It’s always big for us to get run-outs,” UNT forward Colin Voss said. “We did it really well today. We were disciplined in running our lanes. This is an example of what we want to do and what we did at Texas A&M. The games we have played well in, we have pushed the ball.”
Voss and guard Jordan Williams often benefited from UNT getting into the open floor. Williams scored a season-high 20 points and added 10 rebounds for his second career double-double.
“I was more aggressive on the offensive and defensive end,” Williams said.
Voss added 16 points and nine rebounds while hitting seven of his nine shots from the field.
“I had opportunities to score, looked for my shot and didn’t force anything,” Voss said. “I hit my open shots.”
Kareem Canty scored a game-high 26 points and Ryan Taylor added 22 for Marshall, which struggled at times to find quality shots against the Mean Green. UNT employed a 2-3 zone for about 70 percent of the game and held Marshall to 23.7 percent (9-for-38) shooting from the field in the first half.
UNT credited the success of the zone largely to center Kelvin Gaines. The 6-10 junior played a season-high 16 minutes, blocked two shots and altered several others in his best overall performance as he works his way back from preseason foot surgery.
Gaines had played just 25 minutes in five games, including 11 minutes in a loss to Southern Mississippi. The two points Gaines scored against Marshall were the first of his UNT career. He also had four rebounds.
“We were pretty active in the zone and we did a good job in the first half of getting to Canty,” Benford said. “Gaines did a great job in it. His size allowed our guards and wings to play higher than they usually can.”
UNT’s performance in the zone helped the Mean Green jump out to a 39-27 lead at halftime.
UNT consistently beat Marshall down the floor and took a 27-9 lead midway through the first half following a 10-0 run. Williams got behind Marshall for a fastbreak dunk before Chris Jones capped the surge with a steal and a layup.
Marshall answered with a 9-2 run and climbed back within 12 twice in the first half, the second time when Ryan Taylor scored just before halftime.
Marshall got as close as eight points three times late in the second half, but it would get no closer as UNT closed out a win the Mean Green hopes is an indication it is returning to the form it showed in its 61-41 win over A&M on Dec. 31.
UNT needed to break through for its first win in C-USA play after losing at the Super Pit to Southern Miss and Tulane.
The Mean Green got more than just the win, though. UNT gained the confidence that goes along with the feeling that it is headed in the right direction as it prepares for a game at Charlotte on Saturday.
“It’s even bigger because it’s on the road,” Voss said. “We lost our two home games and need to make it up on the road. We have one down now.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.
North Texas 80, Marshall 65
NORTH TEXAS (10-7, 1-2) – A. Williams 3-5 4-4 10, Jones 4-9 1-4 9, J. Williams 5-13 10-12 20, Gaines 1-2 0-0 2, Voss 7-9 2-6 16, Vaughns 3-6 0-0 6, Aniefiok 0-1 0-0 0, Walton 1-4 6-8 9, Flannigan 0-0 0-2 0, Taylor 3-5 0-0 6, Coleman 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 28-56 23-36 80.
MARSHALL (6-12, 0-3) – Canty 8-17 8-11 26, Thomas 1-13 2-3 4, Boykins 0-3 0-0 0, Goard 2-5 1-2 5, Taylor 7-16 7-8 22, Smith 0-4 1-2 1, Sane 0-2 0-0 0, Manning 2-5 1-3 7, Loop 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-65 20-29 65.
Halftime – UNT 39-27. Three-point goals – UNT 1-8 (Jones 0-1, J. Williams 0-2, Aniefiok 0-1, Walton 1-3, Taylor 0-1), Marshall – 5-25 (Canty 2-8, Thomas 0-3, Boykins 0-3, Taylor 1-3, Smith 0-4, Manning 2-4). Fouled out – Voss, Aniefiok, Taylor. Rebounds – UNT 42 (Williams 10), Marshall 41 (Taylor 14). Assists – UNT 17 (Jones 8), Marshall 13 (Canty 5). Total fouls – UNT 25, Marshall 21. A -- 4,586.