North Texas Daily

Quick Hits: Basketball Coach’s Show – Episode 3

Quick Hits: Basketball Coach’s Show – Episode 3

North Texas junior point guard J-Mychal Reese (52) drives the base line to look for a pass against WKU. J-Mychal had game high 23 points along with 7 assists. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

Quick Hits: Basketball Coach’s Show – Episode 3
January 25
14:34 2016

Alex Lessard | Associate Sports Editor

@alexlikechexmix

Men’s head coach Tony Benford and women’s head coach Jalie Mitchell were back at Rudy’s BBQ in Denton for the third basketball coach’s show of the year Monday afternoon. After a week in which both teams had two games, there was plenty of material to cover as both teams look to improve more and more as the Conference-USA tournament creeps up.

First Half: Jalie Mitchell

The women’s squad suffered a 24-point loss at home last Thursday, but did not let it carry into its next game. Thanks to some late-game heroics from junior guard Kelsey Criner, the Mean Green (8-9, 3-4) bounced back for a thrilling buzzer-beater victory on Saturday over the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“We were lightyears ahead of what we looked like on Thursday,” Mitchell said. “You’ve got to be pleased with that, that we came together. I think they were on each other a little bit more leading up to Saturday, and it paid off for us.”

The North Texas offense struggled mightily in the first half, netting only 20 points. Then, after fighting back to take the lead and allowing UAB to tie things up with 14 seconds left, Mitchell elected not to call a timeout, allowing Criner to take matters into her own hands.

“I don’t even think Kelsey looked at me,” Mitchell said. “There was no conversation, eye contact or anything, so she just took off and they ran the play.”

Along with Criner, senior forward Acheil Tac has been crucial as a leader this season. As this week’s player guest, Tac said Mitchell originally recruited her to North Texas in her stint as an assistant coach, creating a special bond when she returned as head coach this season.

Coming in, North Texas was picked last in the C-USA preseason poll, presenting a challenge for Tac and her teammates.

“That’s one of the things that coach Mitchell mentioned in the beginning, how we were picked last,” Tac said. “We had something to prove. We had to come out here and do what we had to do to prove them wrong.”

After splitting its two home games last week, North Texas is still hovering around the middle of the pack in the C-USA standings. With a run in the C-USA tournament in March, this year’s team has a chance earn the school’s first NCAA tournament appearance in 30 years.

“I think they need to understand stuff like that,” Mitchell said. “It’s not just about playing basketball. It’s about learning what gets you where you want to go.”

Second Half: Tony Benford

The men’s team was routed twice on the road by the top two teams in C-USA last week, extending its losing streak to four games. Both losses were by more than 20 points, dropping Benford’s squad to 12th in the C-USA standings.

“Defensively is where most of our focus has got to be,” Benford said. “We’ve got to continue to keep people out of the paint, contest three point shots, get back in transition and make people play against a set defense.”

While sophomore forward Jeremy Combs recorded his fifth and sixth consecutive double-doubles, the absence of freshman center Rickey Brice Jr. due to injury led to a thin bench that struggled to contribute, scoring just eight points in two games.

“We really missed Rickey this weekend, especially playing against the two biggest teams in the league,” Benford said. “We really missed his size, especially in the zone [defense]. He’s really good in the zone because he can block shots and rebound right in front of the rim.”

While Benford hopes to get Brice back cleared to play on Saturday, he has also made strides to add talent off the court. Junior guard Keith Frazier, formerly at Southern Methodist University, enrolled in classes at North Texas last week and will be eligible to play in December.

In the ninth grade, Frazier played AAU ball with junior guard J-Mychal Reese, who said he played a big role in getting the Dallas native to choose North Texas as his new home.

“He’s a good friend of mine. We talk a lot,” Reese said. “When I found out he was going to transfer, I reached out to him again. I just talked to him to see what he was thinking about.”

Benford’s squad will have a full week of practice before Saturday’s matchup with Rice University in Houston, the second meeting between the two teams this season. In the first meeting, the Mean Green earned an 85-74 victory at the Super Pit behind three scorers with at least 18 points.

“[Rice] is tough because they can really shoot the basketball,” Benford said. “They’ll change up their defense, play zone and press a little. We’re going to have to really play well there to get the W.”

Featured Image: North Texas junior point guard J-Mychal Reese (52) drives the base line to look for a pass against WKU. J-Mychal had game high 23 points along with 7 assists. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

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