North Texas Daily

Battling injuries, men’s basketball falls to Middle Tennessee; losing streak extended to five games

Battling injuries, men’s basketball falls to Middle Tennessee; losing streak extended to five games

January 07
19:16 2017

Without senior guards Keith Frazier and Deckie Johnson, North Texas was no match for the No. 1 team in Conference USA.

After mounting a double digit lead early in the second half, Middle Tennessee State University cruised to a 79-68 win over the Mean Green (6-10, 0-4) Saturday afternoon, handing North Texas its fifth consecutive loss.

Lacking one of their top scorers in Johnson, and their McDonald’s All-American in Frazier, the Mean Green were unable to erase several runs by the Blue Raiders (13-3, 3-0). A timetable has not been set for Frazier’s return, but the senior had an MRI on his knee Friday.

“I don’t know if we will get Keith back,” head coach Tony Benford said. “We will check and see.”

With the loss, North Texas has not won a game in over two weeks, and has failed to notch a victory in conference play.

Despite the mounting defeats and sluggish start to the year, Benford is not focused on job security, even though he is in the fifth and final season of his contract.

“As far as worrying about my job, I haven’t thought about it,” Benford said. “I’m worried about trying to make these [players] better. It’s a long season. Obviously we wish we were in a better situation and healthy. We keep working. We’ll be fine and win games. It plays itself out.”

Sophomore guard Ja’Michael Brown tied a career high in points with 21, and a strong 14-point performance from freshman guard A.J. Lawson helped North Texas fend off Middle Tennessee for a half.

But the Blue Raiders, who were led by junior guard Giddy Potts with 18 points, eventually pulled away. For Brown, the game marked a turning point in getting back to the form he was in at the beginning of last season.

“I was hitting today,” Brown said. “I’ve been in the gym and it’s paying off. I feel like it got me back in my rhythm and got my confidence back.”

While the remnants of Friday’s snow dusting rested on the steps of The Super Pit, the fiery action inside to begin the game would have easily melted it.

The Mean Green and the Blue Raiders went at each other’s throats at a frantic pace for the first 10 minutes, trading blows each time down the court. North Texas filtered its offense through junior forward Jeremy Combs, who finished the game with 10 points and six rebounds.

Combs has been dealing with lingering issues from an ankle injury, and believed this game was a step in the right direction.

“It’s everything,” Combs said. “It’s a combination of the rehab and my teammates giving me the ball in good spots.”

Unfortunately for North Texas, they were not able to keep that same pace, as the Blue Raiders ran away with things as the first half expired — a trend that carried out of halftime and throughout the second half.

The Mean Green now get a week to regroup and prepare for a pivotal two-game road trip.

“They’re really good,” Benford said of Middle Tennessee. “There’s a reason they were in the NCAA tournament last year. They did a great job of mixing up their defense. It kind of got away from us. We had some easy baskets inside that we missed. We have to clean that up.”

Next up: North Texas travels to take on Rice University at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 14.

Featured image: North Texas sophomore guard Ja’ Michael Brown drives the lane for a layup against MTSU. Brown scored 21 points, tying his career high. Colin Mitchell

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Clay Massey

Clay Massey

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