The North Texas men’s basketball team’s bye in the Conference USA schedule appears to have arrived at the perfect time.
The Mean Green are off Thursday, when most of the league’s teams will be in action. That break will give UNT a little time to find its way out of a rapidly growing slide.
The Mean Green have lost five straight heading into a game against Rice on Saturday and are struggling with a series of injuries.
UNT played without Deckie Johnson and Keith Frazier on Saturday in a 79-68 loss to Middle Tennessee that dropped the Mean Green (6-10) to 0-4 in C-USA play.
Frazier has been out with a knee injury and was involved in a car crash Saturday. Johnson is dealing with hip issues. Both are expected to return to action in the next few days.
“The schedule comes back around, but we have to win games now,” UNT coach Tony Benford said Monday.
If they don’t, the Mean Green quickly will approach depths they rarely see. Their five-game slide is tied for the second-longest in Benford’s five seasons with the team.
UNT has lost exactly five straight three other times in Benford’s tenure — once in each of his first two seasons and again last year. The Mean Green have gone past the five-game mark only once.
That slide came last season, when they dropped seven straight early in the year.
Avoiding a similar slide could be tough for the Mean Green, who will play their next three games on the road. They is 1-17 away from the Super Pit since the beginning of last season.
“We have struggled on the road,” Benford said following the loss to MTSU. “We know that. What we have to do is continue to work hard on our fundamentals. When you are on a skid like this, you have to figure out why. We have to continue to play good defense, rebound the ball and clean things up on offense. We have to score in transition.”
UNT made some headway in that regard Saturday.
Ja’Michael Brown tied his career high with 21 points, while A.J. Lawson added 14. Jeremy Combs continued to show signs of coming back from offseason ankle surgery while scoring 10 points to go with six rebounds.
“We have to work on everything and make sure we get the rebound after we get a stop,” Combs said.
UNT will have some extra time to work on those challenges before heading out on the road in the early stages of the C-USA season.
Rice is 11-6 overall but just 1-3 in league play and is also off on Thursday. Southern Mississippi is 5-10 but opened at 2-1 in league play heading into a game at Old Dominion.
UNT returns home vs. Rice
UNT is quickly approaching its win total in C-USA from all of last season heading into a three-game homestand beginning Saturday against Rice.
The Mean Green (5-10) are 2-2 in league play. UNT won just five conference games last season.
The Mean Green knocked off Old Dominion and beat UAB in overtime before falling to Middle Tennessee 60-52 in their last game.
UNT should have a chance to improve its win total in the next two weeks. The Owls (9-6) are 0-4 in C-USA. UNT also plays a solid Southern Miss team that is 10-5 and 2-1 in league play before facing another team that is under .500 in Louisiana Tech. The Lady Techsters (6-8) are 1-2 in C-USA.
UNT to begin spring season at SMU tournament
UNT will begin its spring season this weekend at Metroplex Mania, an event hosted by SMU.
BYU and Rice also will play in the event set for Friday through Monday at the SMU Tennis Complex, Turpin Stadium & Brookshire Family Pavilion.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.
SLIDE OF THE BENFORD ERA
The following is a look at the longest losing streaks the North Texas men’s basketball team has suffered in five seasons under Tony Benford:
Seven (2015-16) — UNT lost to Idaho, Samford, Troy, Northern Illinois and Texas-Arlington and was then swept in a home-and-home series by Southern Illinois.
Five (2016-17) — UNT’s current losing streak includes losses to San Diego at home, Charlotte and Old Dominion on the road and UAB and Middle Tennessee at home.Five (2015-16) — UNT lost at home to Marshall and Western Kentucky, then dropped all three games on a trip to Middle Tennessee, UAB and Rice.
Five (2013-14) — UNT lost at home to Middle Tennessee and fell to Tulsa, Rice and Louisiana Tech on the road before returning to Denton and falling to ODU.
Five (2012-13) — UNT lost Middle Tennessee and Arkansas-Little Rock at home and Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State on the road before falling to WKU at home.