North Texas Daily

Men’s basketball confident despite early exit

Men’s basketball confident despite early exit

Men’s basketball confident despite early exit
March 26
00:10 2015

Reece Waddell / Staff Writer

Early Monday morning, two weeks after its season ended on an 82-54 loss courtesy of Rice University in the first round of the Conference USA Tournament, the Mean Green basketball team walked out of the locker room following an end-of-season meeting. Some players were visibly frustrated and others were optimistic, exchanging pleasantries with one another before the offseason officially began.

The team entered the final week of the season on a five-game winning streak, the longest since head coach Tony Benford was hired in 2012. Even though the team had confidence and momentum, it lost its remaining three regular seasons games before bowing out in the first round of the conference tournament. Benford said he thought the team didn’t live up to its potential toward the end of the year.

“It’s disappointing, really disappointing,” Benford said. “Especially when you don’t play as well as you thought or as well as you could have. Everybody talks about ending on the right note and we definitely didn’t do that.”

After losing its final home game of the year 70-57 to Old Dominion University, North Texas was blown out on the road at the University of Texas-El Paso before losing a one-point game at the University of Texas-San Antonio on the final day of the regular season. Benford said he did not think fatigue played much of a factor down the stretch, but senior guard Jordan Williams offered a different opinion.26_mball_web2

Senior guard Jordan Williams takes a jump shot just inside the three-point line against Old Dominion University on Feb. 28. The game was the first of the losing streak to end the season. 

“I was definitely tired at the end,” Williams said. “I obviously wasn’t scoring as much the last few games of the year so I tried to just be a team player and get other guys involved. I feel like I did all I could, but it’s tough going out how we did.”

Williams, who finished fifth in C-USA in minutes played with an average of 34.89 minutes per game, was a four-year starter at North Texas. The Mean Green will lose three starters this offseason due to graduation, including Williams, starting forward Colin Voss and starting point guard T.J. Taylor. Benford said the upcoming recruiting class has the potential to make an immediate impact on the team and fill those voids.

“The future looks really good,” Benford said. “We have some guys like J-Mychal Reese, Rickey Brice and Carrington Ward coming in. They all do different things well. And then we’ve got guys coming back like Jeremy Combs, who I think can be the best player in this league and get you 18 [points] and 10 [rebounds] every game.”

Combs was in the running to win the C-USA Freshman of the Year award before he was passed over for Torin Dorn of the University of North Carolina – Charlotte. Despite that disappointment, Combs said there are things from this season he can take away to make himself better.

“Not winning, it just makes me want to work harder,” Combs said. “I didn’t win Freshman of the Year, so I guess I’ll just have to go out and win Conference Player of the Year next season.”

Combs showed flashes of brilliance throughout his freshman year, averaging 10.0 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, while also tallying three double-doubles. Even though the team is losing four seniors, Combs said he doesn’t feel any added pressure going into next season.

“I want to be the best player in this league and on this team. I know I can lead the team, but I want to be the best,” Combs said.

Since coming to North Texas from Marquette University, Benford has compiled a 42-53 record in three seasons as head coach and hasn’t managed a winning season. His best mark came in 2013-2014 when his team went 16-16. Benford said he doesn’t feel as though his back is against the wall in terms of winning and losing.

“Obviously, we want to win,” Benford said. “We want to win our league, our conference and go out there every night and be competitive. But there’s no outside pressure. We put pressure on ourselves to get better, and I think we have. Last season we won six games in conference, this season we won eight. We’ve proven we can beat the best.”

For now, the Mean Green head into the offseason with plenty to work on, but positivity remains. Benford said he is looking forward to next season and improving in the process.

“I think we can be really good next year. We have to put in the work and get better, but I’m excited,” Benford said.

Featured Image: Freshman forward Jeremy Combs crashes through the paint, colliding with an Old Dominion defender. Photos by Ryan Vance – Staff Photographer

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