North Texas coach Tony Benford vowed to shake things up after the Mean Green struggled offensively in a loss to UTA over the weekend.
That is just what Benford did heading into UNT’s game against Delaware State on Thursday.
Allante Holston moved into the starting lineup, while A.J. Lawson came off the bench. That switch and some crisp ball movement helped UNT come out of its funk in a 73-40 win over the Hornets at the Super Pit.
“We played together and shared the ball,” Benford said. “We didn’t want to settle, mixed it up and got paint touches. We got the ball inside almost every possession.”
UNT struggled to do any of those things — and pretty much anything else on the offensive end — in a 16-point loss to the Mavericks.
The Mean Green shot just 31.3 percent (20 of 64) against UTA, a performance that sent Benford and his staff into evaluation mode. The adjustments UNT made helped the Mean Green improve to 5-4 with time quickly winding down before their Conference USA opener at Charlotte on Jan. 31.
The biggest adjustment the Mean Green made was moving Holston into the starting lineup. The 6-7 sophomore guard had started three games and got another shot against Delaware State (2-8).
Holston capitalized with his best outing of the season. He threw down two driving dunks on his way to scoring a season-high 12 points.
Holston hit all but one of his six shots from the field and also played tight defense on the perimeter. He had just 18 points in eight games coming into the night.
“I just started to bring more energy on defense,” Holston said. “It was nothing that I couldn’t do. I started on defense and my teammates brought the energy along.”
UNT’s offense came along with it. Jeremy Combs continued to work his way back from an ankle injury that shelved him for four games and led the Mean Green with 16 points.
Lawson provided instant offense off the bench and scored 13 points in 18 minutes.
Mrdjan Gasevic scored 10 points to pace Delaware State, which couldn’t get anything going offensively against Holston and the Mean Green.
“It all started with Tay on defense on their point guard,” Combs said. “We fed off his energy.”
Holston scored UNT’s first points off the game on a dunk to spark an 8-0 run that gave the Mean Green control early.
Delaware State didn’t hit a field goal until Gasevic connected on a jumper at the 12:04 mark.
Gasevic’s shot sparked a 12-0 run by Delaware State, which pulled within 17-14 midway through the first half.
Holston hit a pair of free throws to snap the Hornets’ run. UNT quickly regained control and went back up double figures on a Lawson layup late in the first half.
The Mean Green avoided the offensive lulls that hurt them in their loss to UTA the rest of the night.
“We moved the ball a lot and didn’t settle for threes,” Holston said. “We got into the paint.”
That was a good idea on a night when UNT continued to struggle from beyond the arc. The Mean Green made just three of their 19 shots from deep.
UNT hit four of 18 against UTA.
Deckie Johnson missed all four of his shots from 3-point range and has now missed nine straight dating back to UNT’s loss to UTA. He came into the night with a team-high 14 makes from 3-point range, where he was shooting 32.6 percent.
“We have really good shooters,” Benford said. “They have to make them. Deckie has been struggling. He has to get into the gym, get shots up and quit thinking about it.”
UNT’s struggles from 3-point range just didn’t matter much on a night when the Mean Green showed significant improvement following a tough game offensively against UTA.
“We moved it,” Benford said. “The ball didn’t stick. We have worked on it in practice, making the extra pass. That ball was swinging around the horn and we had good player movement.”
The UNT football team officially accepted its invitation to the Heart of Dallas Bowl at halftime. Quarterback Alec Morris and wide receiver Kenny Buyers spoke briefly and asked that UNT’s students and fans come out to support the team when it takes on Army at the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 27.
North Texas 73, Delaware State 40
DELAWARE STATE (2-8) – Waller 1-5 2-2 5, Mallory 2-8 1-1 5, Onifade 0-1 0-0 0, Haywood 0-7 2-5 2, Morgan 2-12 3-4 9, Tillinghast 0-0 0-0 0, Christian 0-1 0-2 0, Lewis 0-3 0-0 0, Gasevic 4-8 2-4 10, Tavakalyn 3-8 0-0 9, Giles Jr. 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 12-53 10-18 40.
NORTH TEXAS (5-4) – Combs 6-9 4-6 16, Brice Jr. 2-7 5-6 9, Holston 5-6 2-2 12, Johnson 1-6 2-3 4, Reese 0-4 1-2 1, Brown 1-5 2-2 4, Green 1-2 0-0 3, Lawson 5-8 1-2 13, Jackson 1-2 0-0 2, Gross 0-2 0-0 0, Temara 3-6 1-1 7, Draper 1-1, 0-1 2. Totals 26-58 18-25 73.
Halftime – UNT 32-21. Three-point goals – Delaware State 6-22 (Waller 1-4 Haywood 0-2, Morgan 2-9, Christian 0-1, Tavakalyn 3-6) UNT 3-19 (Brice Jr. 0-1, Johnson 0-4, Reese 0-2, Brown 0-3, Green 1-2, Lawson 2-3, Gross 0-2, Temara 0-2). Fouled out – none. Rebounds – Delaware State 32 (Gasevic 10), UNT 49 (Brice Jr. 11). Assists – Delaware State 6 (Mallory 2), UNT 11 (Reese 7). Total fouls – Delaware State 20, UNT 17. A – 1,707.