North Texas Daily

Men’s basketball heads to C-USA tournament

Men’s basketball heads to C-USA tournament

Men’s basketball heads to C-USA tournament
March 10
00:02 2015

Scott Sidway / Staff Writer

For the second straight year, the Mean Green men’s basketball team will appear in the Conference USA tournament, starting Wednesday in Birmingham, Alabama.

And similar to last season, North Texas (14-16, 8-10) limped down the home stretch, this time losing three straight games to end the season and finish as the No. 8 seed out of 12 teams that make the tournament.

“We’ve got to regroup,” head coach Tony Benford said. “It’s now a one-game season for everybody. It’s win or go home. Everybody starts 0-0 next week.”

To continue the déjà vu, the Mean Green will open the tournament against Rice University (11-19, 8-10) at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the same team it started against and defeated in last season’s tournament.

Including the 63-62 overtime win in last year’s tournament, North Texas has defeated Rice three straight times. But according to Benford, the playing field is more level than it looks on paper.

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Senior guard Jordan Williams rushes toward the hoop against Old Dominion University at the Super Pit on Feb. 28.

“We know we can beat anybody if we show up and play for 40 minutes, if we defend and execute,” Benford said. “But anybody can beat us if we don’t show up and play hard.”

Even though there are striking similarities between last season and this season, there is one large difference. Unlike the previous season, the 2014-2015 Mean Green defeated the top team in C-USA on three different occasions throughout the season, showing it has the ability to beat anyone in the league.

“That’s why we feel confident,” senior forward Colin Voss said. “That’s also a difference from last year. Last year we didn’t do that. Last year we really only beat the sub-par teams, where this year we have a lot of great, quality wins and we really feel we can beat anybody in the league.”

Voss was a key contributor in defeating Rice in last year’s tournament, but said his team did not play within themselves come tournament time.

“Last year we got a little away from what we do, because people get nervous a little bit or tried to be a hero. I guess because if you lose, you’re gone,” Voss said. “I don’t think we’ll let the pressure get to us, and I think we’ll just come out and play relaxed.“

Despite the three game skid to end the regular season, the stretch run was not all bad for North Texas. Before stumbling, the Mean Green posted a five-game winning streak, its longest in Benford’s three-year tenure as head coach.

Senior guard Jordan Williams, who was named to the third team All-Conference USA Monday, played a big role during the streak and said the team finally started to find its rhythm.

“I just feel like everybody being on the same page. We’ve been working hard and it’s been carrying over to the games,” Williams said. “I think if we just keep playing hard, playing together and being teammates, we’ll be good.”

North Texas will need to regain the form it had during the win streak in order to make a deep run in the tournament. If the Mean Green takes care of business against Rice on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Louisiana Tech University, who ended up with the top seed, will be waiting for it on Thursday night.

“I think we can beat anybody, so it really doesn’t matter,” Williams said. “We’re going to play hard and go right at them.”

The Mean Green will not be the only team going hard at its opposition, however. Postseason play in general is a slower paced, more physical game. Games are played more in the half court with fewer fast break opportunities, making every offensive possession count that much more.

“They won’t let you get easy buckets as much. They’re going to foul you and make you go to the line,” Voss said. “You’ve got to earn it more.”

For Voss and the rest of the senior class, the conference tournament holds higher significance than just winning a trophy. Since an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament is unrealistic given North Texas’ sub-.500 record, winning the tournament is the seniors’ only shot at playing in the big dance.

“It means a lot. It really means everything,” Voss said. “This is why we play, to get a chance to go to the NCAA tournament.”

The Mean Green is approaching the tournament with the proverbial one-game-at-a-time mentality and is trying to not get ahead of itself. After all, games in the conference tournament come down to one fundamental principle.

“You either win or you go home,” Williams said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Featured Image: Senior forward Colin Voss lines up a jump shot with two pursuing Old Dominion University defenders closing in. Photos by Ryan Vance – Senior Staff Photographer

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