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Men’s basketball falls to WKU in first round of C-USA tourney with Combs limited

Men’s basketball falls to WKU in first round of C-USA tourney with Combs limited

Junior guard J-Mychal Reese does a cross over against Southern Mississippi. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

Men’s basketball falls to WKU in first round of C-USA tourney with Combs limited
March 10
11:50 2016

Torie Mosley | Staff Writer

@toriemosley

Mean Green men’s basketball won’t be joining in the March Madness hype this year.

The North Texas (12-20) 2015-2016 campaign came to an end in the first day of action at the C-USA tournament against eighth ranked Western Kentucky University 84-76. It wasn’t any easier for the Mean Green considering it was  without star sophomore forward Jeremy Combs outside of the opening two minutes of the game.

“We knew it was going to be a challenge going in, especially with Jeremy Combs not being at full strength and able to play,” head coach Tony Benford said. “That really hurt us. Jeremy’s a double-double guy who averaged 12 to almost 13 rebounds when he played. He’s the heart and soul of our team so he not being there was tough.”

Combs started the game after being taken out of last Saturday’s 80-77 home win against Charlotte. In the game’s second minute, the Dallas native left the game with a high left ankle sprain and was replaced by freshman forward Khalil Fuller. Fuller scored five points and grabbed four rebounds in 25 minutes for the Mean Green.

Graduate forward Eric Katenda scored a career-high 22 points while grabbing four rebounds and two steals in 37 minutes. The big man even hit a three-pointer to put North Texas up temporarily 19-18 with 9:34 left in the first half, but the effort wasn’t enough to stop Western Kentucky (17-15) from holding onto the victory.

“[Without Jeremy] we were all just trying to play hard,” Katenda said. “The whole team showed up to try to win today.”

WKU went on an 8-0 run after Katenda’s three-pointer and a 16-2 run in the first half before hitting the locker room up 40-28 on the Mean Green at the half. North Texas fell even further 67-50 halfway through the second half and attempted a comeback late in the game.

Junior guard Deckie Johnson and freshman guard Ja’Michael Brown hit back-to-back threes in the game’s last minute and a Carrington Ward layup cut the lead to 82-76 with 40 seconds left in the game before WKU notched the victory with a pair of free throws.

Katenda pointed to the team’s youth as a weakness in today’s loss. With eight new players on the court for the Mean Green this year, it will take time for a team chemistry to build, according to Katenda.

“A lot of these guys were just playing in high school, and we put them in tough situations,” Katenda said. “It’ll come in time. We just need some time to develop.”

North Texas shot 47% from the line, missing 11 free throws in the eight-point loss. WKU outplayed the Mean Green throughout the match-up, out-rebounding North Texas 44-29 and out assisting North Texas 19-10.

“We let them get a couple offensive rebounds and score off of them,” junior guard J-Mychal Reese said. “We didn’t get defensive stop when we needed to.”

Although Combs had to miss playing the last game of the season with his teammates, Benford said there’s a lot the younger guys can learn from their peer going into next season.

“When you have five freshmen and eight new guys it’s tough, but when you’ve got a guy like Jeremy Combs, there’s a lot to build on,” Benford said. “His ability just shows the young guys they can step up and make the progress he made from his freshman and sophomore year.”

Featured Image: Junior guard J-Mychal Reese does a cross over. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

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