The Mean Green, coming off a two game road trip in Florida where they lost to FIU and won in OT against FAU, looked to carry momentum from the overtime win in to a two game home stand against Middle Tennessee and UALR. The Florida trip was successful due to the overtime win: the Mean Green finished strong for one of the first times this season as Roger Franklin tipped in a miss at the buzzer to send the game to OT and they took care of business the rest of the way. Roger Franklin continued to play very good basketball, scoring a career high 29 against FIU and averaging 18.3 points in the 3 games leading up to UALR. Franklin has been picking up the slack for Tony Mitchell who continues to be inconsistent on the offensive end.
Thursdays’ Matchup between the Mean Green and the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders was one that was highly touted at the beginning of the season. The Mean Green and Blue Raiders were picked to be 1 and 2 in the conference by many analysts before the season. The Mean Green obviously haven’t lived up to expectations, but Middle Tennessee was (16-4) (8-1) coming into the game and by far the best team in the conference. The Mean Green came out playing hard and while they only shot 33% from the field in the first half, they were only down 28-23 against a very good Middle Tennessee team. Tony Mitchell and Jordan Williams led the way at the half with 8 and 6 respectively, but they needed to pick up the offense in the second half if the Mean Green were going to win the game.
The Mean Green cut it to a 5-point game with 1:23 remaining when Niko Stojiljkovic hit a 3 and got the foul, but he missed a FT that would have cut the lead to 4. Ultimately the Mean Green couldn’t get any closer than that and lost 72-64. Jordan Williams had 20 points, Roger Franklin finished with 14, and Niko (making his 3rd start of the season) had 12 points and 9 rebounds. Tony Mitchell scored just 2 points in the second half. All 5 Mean Green starters played 30+ minutes, and 3 players played 38+ minutes. Alzee Williams was out due to a knee injury and Jacob Holmen is still suffering from a bad concussion that he sustained a few weeks back. As a result, Mean Green Coach Tony Benford has had to play guys more than he wanted; against Middle, Benford’s Mean Green practically played just 5 guys.
Saturday Nights game featured the Mean Green taking on Arkansas Little Rock who was 14-9 on the season and leading the Sun Belt West, the division that UNT resides in. Coming off the solid performance in the loss to Middle Tennessee, the Mean Green were very positive about the direction they were headed. The first half against UALR went about the same as it did Thursday, both teams shot very poorly at 36.7% each, but the Mean Green were down due to UALR going 5/8 from 3. Jordan Williams (11) and Roger Franklin (8) led the way at the half for the Mean Green as they were down 32-25; Tony Mitchell had 6 to round out the 3 total players to score in the first half.
The Mean Green’s scoring in the second half didn’t get much better, at the end of the game only 4 players scored for the Mean Green. The 4th scorer was Niko Stojilkovic who had just 2 points. Despite the lack of spreading the scoring around, the Mean Green took a 37-35 lead with 11:51 remaining when Jordan Williams hit a 3 in the corner. The team was clearly energized by the shot, but it didn’t stick around for long as UALR went on a 7-0 run to take the lead and never relinquished it the rest of the way.
The biggest positive from this game had to be the defensive intensity. The Mean Green were all over UALR all night; even during the 7-0 run UALR, the Mean Green forced them to hit two very tough shots late in the shot clock to take the lead. It was surprising to see the defensive intensity stay up all game considering once again the Mean Green played basically 6 guys, with 5 players getting 31+ minutes again. Alzee Williams made it back from his knee injury to play 33 minutes, but he didn’t score and had just 3 rebounds. Roger Franklin continued his stellar play; he scored 20 points and added 12 rebounds. Jordan Williams scored 20+ for the 2nd straight game with 22 points and 5 rebounds. Tony Mitchell scored 13 and had 6 boards, but he fouled out late in the game. The Mean Green made it interesting toward the end trying to run plays and foul to extend the game, but it wasn’t enough and UALR won 62-57.
The Mean Green are now 8-14 on the season and have lost 3 out of their last 4 games. While they aren’t winning much, I can see improvement and the intensity on defense has really impressed me. The team continues to play hard despite their offensive struggles. After the game, Jordan Williams and Roger Franklin both spoke about how early in the season they deferred to Tony Mitchell too much and waited for him to take over, and now they are seeing that they can’t wait for that and have to take it in their own hands to score. Mitchell struggled in the two home games and 3 out of the last 4; the more I see him play, the more I just don’t think he’s a go to guy on the offensive end. Even when he does get the ball where he likes it, he doesn’t take over. While Mitchell will have games where he scores 20-35 points on occasion, I expect to see him score 10-17 much more often. Some draft sites have him in the 20’s now, which is at least 10 spots lower than the Mean Green star was projected to be drafted at the beginning of the season. I don’t see it getting much high from here on out; Mitchell still has a lot to work on if he wasn’t to make it in the NBA.
The next home game for the Mean Green is Feb. 7th against Western Kentucky, they will play two on the road against ULL (Jan 31) and ASU (Feb. 2).