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Men’s basketball struggling to maintain consistency and find chemistry

Men’s basketball struggling to maintain consistency and find chemistry

North Texas junior guard Deckie Johnson (10) drives the basket against FAU. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

Men’s basketball struggling to maintain consistency and find chemistry
March 03
20:26 2016

Reece Waddell | Senior Staff Writer

@ReeceWaddell15

At times this season, the North Texas men’s basketball team has flashed big potential. Its stunning come-from-behind victory in the waning moments against Florida International University 11 days ago is just one example.

However, more often than not this year, the Mean Green has floundered. One thing a few people on the team, particularly graduate forward Eric Katenda, have pointed to all season to explain the problems is chemistry.

North Texas had eight new additions to its squad in 2015, which equates to a 61.5 percent roster turnover from the previous year. For Katenda, the struggles have culminated because of the lack consistency and one other element.

“We have a lot of young guys, so we have to talk about discipline,” Katenda said. “Sometimes you have to put your pride in your pocket and say, ‘It’s my teammates’ time to shine, not mine.’ It comes with time, discipline and guys understanding this isn’t high school or junior college anymore.”

North Texas senior forward Eric Katenda (20) passes the ball while driving the lane against WKU. Katenda 4-4 from the free throw line despite a team 58 percent from the line. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

North Texas senior forward Eric Katenda (20) passes the ball while driving the lane against WKU. Katenda 4-4 from the free throw line despite a team 58 percent from the line. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

Before its road trip last weekend, North Texas swept its home stand and seemed to be gaining momentum for a late-season push. But a tough overtime loss at Louisiana Tech University last Thursday – a game in which the Mean Green led by two with under 20 seconds remaining – sent North Texas into a tailspin.

The Mean Green went on to lose against the Bulldogs before falling to the University of Southern Mississippi two nights later to drop to 11-18 on the year, all while falling to 11th place in Conference USA.

“I feel like we definitely should have won those,” sophomore forward Jeremy Combs said of the road trip. “We’ve been trying to get wins on the road, but it just hasn’t happened. I’m not going to blame it on chemistry.”

Combs is the only starter who returned to the team this season, and has become a more vocal leader in his second year with North Texas. Named co-captain before the season, Combs has embraced his new role and thrived in it, averaging a double-double with 15.7 points and 11 rebounds per game.

Despite his growth, Combs has not been able to mask the underlying issues that have plagued the Mean Green all year. Head coach Tony Benford attributed one of the team’s obstacles to something out of Combs’ control, saying there is a common denominator for success across C-USA.

“If you look at the top five teams in our league, all those guys have [returning starters],” Benford said. “When you start breaking it down, the teams at the top of the league have experience. And when you look at that, it’s huge. You have to have experience. There’s no shortcuts to it.”

With five freshmen on the roster and many playing significant minutes, including freshman guard Ja’Michael Brown and center Rickey Brice Jr., the youth on this year’s team is prevalent.

The number of upper-classman got even smaller last December when junior guard DeAndre Harris was dismissed from the team after an incident in the first half of a game against Troy University.

“I think that hurts you,” Benford said. “Anytime you lose a quality player like DeAndre, it hurts you because he has experience. You count on those guys.”

North Texas freshman center Rickey Brice (23) dunks the ball to push the Mean Green past 100 points against Jarvis Christian. Colin Mitchell | Intern Photographer

North Texas freshman center Rickey Brice (23) dunks the ball to push the Mean Green past 100 points against Jarvis Christian. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

One area the inexperience has reared its ugly head for the Mean Green is on the defensive end of the floor. Ranking in the bottom half of C-USA and currently sitting at 10th in scoring defense, consistency on defense has been a battle the team has fought most of the year.

“When you have experience, especially on the defensive end, guys know rotations and know what to expect,” Benford said. “They know how hard they have to play. Offensively they know what they’re doing and they understand everyone’s roles when you’ve been [and played] together for a couple of years.”

Through many trying stretches of the season, including a seven and five-game losing streak, morale in the locker room has fluctuated, according to Katenda.

And even though there were many new faces in the locker room when the season began last November, Katenda is not willing to use that as an excuse.

“We all feel like we’re better than our record shows,” Katenda said. “We’re all kind of down, because obviously we didn’t expect the season to go like this.”

Featured Image: North Texas junior guard Deckie Johnson (10) drives the basket against FAU. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

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