North Texas Daily

Men’s basketball looks for new start in SBC Tournament

Men’s basketball looks for new start in SBC Tournament

March 06
23:25 2013

Ryne Gannoe / Senior Staff Writer

For the rest of the Mean Green men’s basketball season, it is win or go home. The single-elimination Sun Belt Conference Tournament starts tomorrow in Hot Springs, Ark.

No. 1 Middle Tennessee State University (27-4, 19-1) is the favorite to win the tournament. With only one conference loss and 16 straight wins, the Blue Raiders have a bye to the second round. Three MTSU players were named to all-conference teams including senior guard Bruce Massey – the Sun Belt’s defensive player of the year.

Middle Tennessee awaits the winner of the No. 9 Mean Green (12-19, 7-13) versus the No. 8 University of Louisiana-Lafayette (12-19, 8-12.)

ULL has won four of the last five meetings meetings with UNT, including both games this season. The lone Mean Green win came in last year’s Sun Belt tournament quarterfinals, 65-62.

Head coach Tony Benford said there is a specific game plan to limit Louisiana-Lafayette.

“They have a good team with two all-conference players,” Benford said. “They shoot the ball well with some great three-point shooters. We have to do a great job of keeping them out of transition and contest the three-point shot.”

The Mean Green enters the tournament with momentum. The final game of the regular season ended with a 24-point win over No. 2 seed Arkansas State University (18-12, 12-8) and UNT has won four of its last six games.

“Teams don’t want to play us right now in the tournament,” sophomore guard Jordan Williams said.

A portion of the team’s revival comes from the return of sophomore point guard Chris Jones, who broke his foot in December. He returned for the first time last Thursday and scored eight points, grabbed seven rebounds and added two assists.

Senior forward Niko Stojiljkovic said Jones’ return elevates the Mean Green’s play.

“Getting Chris back is very big,” Stojiljkovic said. “It helps us a lot on and off the court. If we are able to carry over the game and just listen to what the coaches are saying, I don’t think anyone can beat us.”

Benford said the tournament is an opportunity for a whole new season.

“The thing is, everybody is 0-0,” Benford said. “One difference maker we have is Tony Mitchell. If he shows up and plays like he’s capable of playing, he can get 20-20 in a night.”

UNT and ULL tip off at 6:30 p.m. at the Convention Center Court.

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