North Texas Daily

Men’s basketball searching for answers and wins midway through season

Men’s basketball searching for answers and wins midway through season

January 17
17:24 2017

Clay Massey | Senior Sports Writer

Entering the fifth and final year of his contract with the University of North Texas men’s basketball team, head coach Tony Benford knew he had to do one thing – win.

He and his squad adopted a win-now mentality around its group of core seniors. As the season rages on, so do the issues surrounding the team. Currently, the Mean Green are on a six-game losing skid.

Hindered by injuries, North Texas is tied with Florida International University for dead last in Conference-USA, and have yet to win a game against a conference foe. With two key contributors in senior guards Deckie Johnson and Keith Frazier battling injuries that have sidelined them, Benford knows they have not lived up to their potential.

This is especially true with junior forward Jeremy Combs, who is still feeling the effects of an offseason ankle surgery. Combs has not been his explosive self this year after averaging a double-double in 2016 and being named to the preseason all-C-USA team.

“I can’t control injuries,” Benford said. “That’s why we’re in the position we’re in. Injuries have really hurt us, especially with the team we have this year. We’ve been having to rely on a lot of young players.”

Combs averaged 14.9 points and 10.5 rebounds per game last year while playing in every game except one. This season, Combs has played in just 13 games, with his scoring and rebounding dipping to an average of 10.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.

Despite the decrease in production, Combs believes he is almost at 100 percent.

“I’m feeling good,” Combs said. “I’m rehabbing twice a day everyday.”

The Mean Green have adjusted to the personnel available by using a small-ball style approach with mostly guards on the floor. North Texas tries to move the ball around to get easy looks, which chews up a majority of the shot clock. As a result, they are often forced into bad shots late in possessions.

Ball movement should lead to assists, but for the Mean Green, most of the time ball movement leads to turnovers. North Texas sports a conference worst 0.77 assist-turnover ratio. They turn the ball over, on average, 14.3 times a game, which is the 253rd worst average in the nation among DI schools.

“We’re not getting any easy baskets,” Benford said. “Our turnovers are coming from guys trying to do too much at times. We’re capable of getting assists if we move the ball and make simple plays, but then we have to make shots.”

At the head of the offense is a rotation of point guards that includes senior J-Mychal Reese and freshman Ryan Woolridge. Woolridge transferred to North Texas after not playing a minute for the University of San Diego.

While Woolridge is averaging 8.6 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, Benford thinks he needs to slow the tempo at times. As a point guard, Woolridge has more turnovers, 22, than assists, 17.

“Ryan’s doing a good job for us,” Benford said. “But at times he needs to slow down. I think he’s got good speed and quickness, but he’s got to make simple plays when guys are open. He’s going to be fine moving forward.”

Woolridge feels as if he’s adjusted to the new system, and just needs to shake off a little rust.

“I’m still trying to work it off,” Woolrdige said. “I’m not 100 percent playing as well as I can. I’m getting there.”

The Mean Green’s struggles are due in large part to the 296th-ranked offense in the country among 347 DI schools. North Texas averages just 67.2 points per game after averaging 74.6 points per game last season.

And even though the Mean Green returned 82 percent of its scoring from last season, North Texas’ scoring average per game has fallen 7.4 points per game.

In an injury ridden season, plans have to change. Now, the Mean Green find themselves squarely behind the eight-ball with a road contest against the University of Southern Mississippi looming on Thursday.

Because if the C-USA tournament started today, North Texas would be at home, watching on the couch.

“Hopefully we get all those guys back,” Benford said. “I think if all our guys were healthy, we’d have a different record right now. We’ve struggled on the road in the last two years. Hopefully we can play well and get a W.”

Featured Image: North Texas junior forward Jeremey Combs (1) drives the baseline for a layup against Delaware state. Colin Mitchell

About Author

Reece Waddell

Reece Waddell

Reece Waddell was the Editor-in-Chief of the North Texas Daily from May 2017 to December 2017. He previously served as the Sports Editor and Senior Sports Writer. Reece also worked at The Dallas Morning News and WFAA-TV.

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