North Texas Daily

Men’s basketball still struggling to find way to win away from home

Men’s basketball still struggling to find way to win away from home

March 03
00:55 2016

Alex Lessard | Associate Sport Editor


For Mean Green men’s basketball, the Super Pit has been home to some high-energy, motivated performances throughout the season.

But since the Mean Green hit the road, that liveliness has not translated. 

At home, North Texas sports a 10-6 record, which could be even better if the team didn’t drop all three games of the Mean Green challenge from Nov. 23-25. Comparatively, the team is a dismal 1-12 on the road, with its only win coming on Jan. 1 against the University of Texas at San Antonio – the lowest attended road game of the season against the last place team in Conference USA. 

A variety of factors have played into the team’s hardships, but graduate forward Eric Katenda said the team’s youth has made things extra difficult on road floors.

“Things are harder to hear. People in the stands are not for you,” Katenda said. “When things don’t go your way, it’s tough to keep your composure when you’re a young guy and you’re put in a situation like this.”

With more than a dozen road games under their belts, the youngest members of the Mean Green have learned valuable lessons and gained crucial experiences Katenda said will help them in the long run. But when their backs are against the wall on the road with the pressure mounting, things have taken a turn for the worst.

SuperPit Graph

Alex Lessard | Associate Sports Editor

On the flip side, the new faces at North Texas have been a positive during home games, riling up the crowd with riveting runs and plays all season. Junior guard Deckie Johnson has been fueled by the fans on multiple occasions, hitting four threes in a 17-6 run against Louisiana Tech University at home on Feb. 6 and nailing five long balls in the final eight minutes to spark a comeback victory versus Florida International University on Feb. 18.

According to Benford, freshman center Rickey Brice Jr. has enjoyed the presence of the Super Pit atmosphere more than anyone.

“I tell Rickey he can’t look at the crowd every time he does something,” Benford said. “You’ve got to get back down on defense.”

Benford said he’s noticed larger crowds filling the Super Pit this season, but the numbers show otherwise. Because of nine of the team’s 16 home games to date being played during Thanksgiving and winter breaks, the average attendance at men’s contests is on pace to be the lowest in the past eight years, with the same being true on the women’s side.

Despite the decrease in attendance, the players have found comfort in playing in front of friends and family. Everything from sleeping in their own beds to getting to warm up in a familiar facility has translated to better team harmony during game action. 

“My favorite thing about playing at home is how much of a connection we have and how much fun we have playing with each other,” freshman guard Ja’Michael Brown said. “The chemistry we have, sharing the ball, everybody’s just having fun and taking care of business.”

On the road, the routine is virtually identical. Various team activities, meals and study halls are planned throughout the day, and sometimes Benford even dials down the intensity at practices for the latter matchup of a two-game road trip to save team energy.

Benford has also made attempts at conveying an underdog mentality away from Denton, but the inability to finish games down the stretch has snatched opportunities at potentially season-altering upsets, including games it had halftime leads in at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (Jan. 23), Old Dominion University (Feb. 11) and Louisiana Tech University (Feb. 25).

A side of the super pit during tip off of the Women’s basketball game against Southern Mississippi. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

A side of the super pit during tip off of the Women’s basketball game against Southern Mississippi. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

“I try to create that with our guys – a mental mindset that it’s us against them,” Benford said. “Let’s go in here and execute offensively and defensively, we can’t beat ourselves, different things like that.”

Overall, the strength of the Mean Green’s road foes has played a big part in the team’s struggles. The combined home records of North Texas road opponents is 139-58, good for a 70.6 win percentage. Meanwhile, North Texas went 0-4 in non-conference matchups away from home, with those opponents holding a 45-14 record in home games (76.3 win percentage).

Even after all the factors are taken into account, the team still isn’t making any excuses about its performance. To combat the problem, the Mean Green has put added focus on limiting mistakes, especially on defense.

“If we just take care of the ball, play defense and have each other’s back, everything else will take care of itself,” Brown said. “We don’t have a problem scoring. It’s just mostly team defense.”

North Texas has allowed more than 80 points 10 different times on the road compared to just once at home. Regardless, the team is confident it can put a halt to the trend for next week’s C-USA tournament in Birmingham, Alabama.

“We have all the pieces to win games. We’ve showed it,” Katenda said. “Now it’s just a matter of believing that we have it and not just crumbling under pressure. It comes with maturity, faith and experience, and we’ve just got to hope that it clicks at the right time.”

Featured Image: With the biggest stadium in Conference USA, the Super Pit rarely has more than half of the seats full during basketball games. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

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