North Texas Daily

Season-long woes put to rest in men’s basketball win

Season-long woes put to rest in men’s basketball win

February 20
22:44 2016

Alex Lessard | Associate Sports Editor


A lack of balanced offensive production and struggling to finish out games have been the Achilles heels of the men’s basketball team all season. But in Saturday night’s 70-62 against Florida Atlantic University (7-21, 5-10), North Texas (11-16, 6-8) put an end to its bad habits.

The Mean Green’s 11-2 run out of the gate and six consecutive clutch free throws down the stretch ultimately sealed the victory. Head coach Tony Benford was proud of his team’s balanced effort, as ten players received playing time in the home victory.

“It was really important. You’ve got to win your home games,” Benford said. “We know we’ve given some away all year, but we’re moving forward.”

All five starters scored single digit points in the first half, but freshman center Rickey Brice Jr. led the team with eight off the bench. The Mean Green offense was fluid and aggressive throughout the game, outscoring FAU 28-14 in the paint and finding its groove by sharing its looks among multiple players, especially when it mattered most.

“We’re getting the ball in the right spots, taking good shots and moving the ball,” junior guard J-Mychal Reese said. “When we’re getting shots and we’re playing like that, we’re hard to beat.”

Despite failing to get to the free throw line once in the first half, North Texas did not stop attacking the basket. The Mean Green couldn’t match Florida Atlantic’s efficiency from the charity stripe (87.5 percent), but finished the game 17-for-25.

Those free throws proved to be a critical factor in closing out the game. North Texas found itself up by double digits on three separate occasions but seemingly had to thwart off runs from the Owls each time it began to get comfortable, including an 8-0 run late in the second half that cut the lead to three points with 1:04 remaining.

“It was tough, but I feel like we always keep fighting,” sophomore forward Jeremy Combs said. “We was missing easy shots, but we kept playing hard and started getting calls in the second half.”

Whether it was one of graduate forward Eric Katenda’s four blocks or one of many ferocious dunks from Combs, the crowd at the Super Pit gave the Mean Green the energy it needed. The squad rocked all-black jerseys for the first time this season, which brought a larger crowd than usual to support the team.

“I thought we had a great crowd,” Benford said. “I thought they did a great job getting engaged, especially when we started getting stops. I thought they helped us, and our guys fed off of that.”

North Texas will have to go back on the road for its next two games at Louisiana Tech University and Southern Mississippi University next week. With only four games remaining in the regular season, the Mean Green have only one road victory all year.

Nevertheless, Benford is confident that his team is peaking at just the right time.

“I think everybody’s starting to come together,” Benford said. “All we can do is just try and continue to get better every day of practices and every game. There’s a lot of basketball left.”

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