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Men’s basketball pulls off close victory without Combs

Men’s basketball pulls off close victory without Combs

North Texas sophomore guard Greg White-Pippen (2) celebrates with teammates after he forced a defensive stop in the closing seconds against the Charlotte 49ers. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

Men’s basketball pulls off close victory without Combs
March 05
23:23 2016

Torie Mosley | Staff Writer

@toriemosley

Mean Green men’s basketball entered the final game of the season tonight riding a three-game losing streak, sitting in 11th place in the Conference-USA standings with a 12-18 record. But a 20-point, five rebound and one block performance by graduate forward Eric Katenda inched North Texas past the visiting Charlotte 49ers, 80-77.

“Katenda stepped up tonight,” head coach Tony Benford said. “We needed somebody to step up. He’s got the ability to make the mid-range jumper, and we took advantage of that.”

Star sophomore forward Jeremy Combs sat the game out with a sprained left ankle. Combs started every game for the Mean Green this season prior to tonight’s contest.

The Dallas native led the team in scoring with 15.4 points per game and in rebounding at 10.8 per game on the season. In total, Combs finished top-15 in eight C-USA stat categories.

To make up for Combs’ absence, Katenda, junior guards Deckie Johnson and J-Mychal Reese and freshman guard Ja’Michael Brown all finished in double-digit scoring.

North Texas senior forward Eric Katenda (20) shoots a free-throw against the Charlotte 49ers. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

North Texas senior forward Eric Katenda (20) shoots a free-throw against the Charlotte 49ers. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

“I thought our guys came out (with a win) without our leader, heart and soul of our program, Jeremy,” Benford said. “I’m really pleased with the effort we had. Everybody in the game really played hard. Defensively, we got stops when we needed to.”

The Mean Green struggled defensively early on against the 49ers. North Texas trailed Charlotte the first 16 minutes of the game until a Johnson lay-up put the team up 28-27 near the end of the first half.

The Mean Green were able to stay in striking distance with stiff perimeter defense throughout the game, holding Charlotte to 4-for-19 shooting from behind the arch.

“Last game, we didn’t get to them and we let them get too many open looks,” junior guard J-Mychal Reese said. “That was the difference. We were getting to them tonight, starting with the three-point shooters.”

North Texas junior guard J-Mychal Reese drives the basket for a layup against Old Dominion University. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

North Texas junior guard J-Mychal Reese drives the basket for a layup against Old Dominion University. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

A tight, back-and-forth second half opened up a little for North Texas after a Brown three-pointer gave the Mean Green a 76-71 lead with four minutes remaining. A few possessions later, the 49ers cut the lead to one with two minutes left.

Katenda had two clutch rebounds and made both of his free throws in the game’s final minutes to clinch the 80-77 victory on senior night.

“I felt like it was going to be a tough game for me,” Katenda said. “We were coming off a tough stretch, so I really wanted us to win. We all felt like we all needed to step up without our leading scorer and rebounder, but I think we all did a pretty good job of stepping up and not letting it get us down.”

At 12-19 and 7-11 in C-USA, Benford said he doesn’t feel pleased with the season’s result, but still feels confident in his team heading into the conference tournament next week.

“This isn’t the year we envisioned having,” Benford said. “When you have eight new guys, its tough. I thought these guys through all the adversity we went through and kept fighting, and it showed tonight. They played through a lot of adversity and played hard against a solid team.”

North Texas landed as the No. 9 seed in the C-USA tournament and will face No. 8 seed Western Kentucky University in the first round Wednesday at 12 p.m.

Featured Image: North Texas sophomore guard Greg White-Pippen (2) celebrates with teammates after he forced a defensive stop in the closing seconds against the Charlotte 49ers. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

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