The Mean Green came in to Thursday night’s game desperately needing a win, especially one against a quality opponent like Lehigh who was 8-2 on the season. Before the game even started, the Mean Green got a huge boost when Lehigh star C.J. McCollum (the nations leading scorer at 24.9 ppg) was ruled out with an ankle injury, surely disappointing the 57 scouts/executives that showed up to see the game between 2 potential NBA lottery picks. Tony Benford chose to not tell his team that McCollum wouldn’t be playing so that they wouldn’t take Lehigh lightly or lose their concentration before the game. That left UNT Mean Green Tony Mitchell with a chance to break out and showcase his talents to NBA teams despite the disappointing season for him and the team.
Instead, Mean Green star Tony Mitchell didn’t even start due to breaking a team rule for the second time this season, although it didn’t keep him out for long as he entered after a short stint on the bench. The game started off looking like North Texas would stay with Lehigh; the UNT Mean Green started the game looking better than they have on offense the last few weeks. Even without McCollum, Lehigh showed that they could score early on and didn’t slow up all game; they shot the ball very well from 3 point range and scored inside as well. Gabe Knutson of Lehigh showed his shooting ability by scoring 19 points in the first half including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc. The Mean Green stayed around for a while and had a 21-20 lead with 9:16 remaining before Lehigh went on a 21-8 run to finish the half and effectively the game. UNT Mean Green Tony Mitchell showed a little more aggression in the first half scoring 13 points to lead the team, but even with his slightly improved play, he still left a lot to be desired. The Mean Green scored a little more in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to keep up with Lehigh who didn’t let off the pedal a bit. Without their leading scorer, Lehigh still managed to finish with 2 players scoring more than 25 points, and Lehigh scored 90 as a team. Tony Mitchell (22 points and 9 rebounds) and Alzee Williams (20 points and 8 rebounds) led the Mean Green.
Even though the Mean Green actually scored enough to win, the offense still didn’t play very well. The North Texas defense, one of the teams stronger points all season, was very, very bad. Perhaps the worst part of the night was point guard Chris Jones going 0-8 in the game and then also committing 4 turnovers. Jones looked like he had ‘checked out’ all night long; he made lazy passes and played uninspired basketball. Another negative, and something that hurt this team all year long, was Tony Mitchell’s lack of hustle getting back on both ends of the floor. With GM’s and scouts from the NBA watching the game (and the sure knowledge that his performance, regardless of a UNT loss or victory) would affect when he gets drafted, I thought that Mitchell would play differently but he didn’t. He continued to be the last man back on offense and defense, despite being the most athletic player on the North Texas squad.
It was a game that many people were excited about and a chance for the Mean Green to turn the season around, but instead, UNT’s season continues to spiral out of control.
The Mean Green may have the toughest stretch of their season over the next two games; they go on the road in conference play against Western Kentucky (Conference Tourney Champs) and Middle Tennessee (arguably best team in conference). Many Mean Green fans hoped and believed that this season would be a very special one, now this team will have to battle to finish above .500. At this point, the only thing that matters is getting some cohesiveness for the team so that they can potentially make a run in the conference tournament. The Mean Green will get a small Christmas break, but they will have a lot of work to do when they get back on campus.