The North Texas Mean Green (6-9, 1-3) were coming off an impressive win against Troy as they faced the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks (2-8, 1-3) last night. The game against Troy was the best the Mean Green have looked in quite a while, so a win against ULM would do a lot to get them back in the race in the Sun Belt Conference.
Mar 6, 2012; Hot Springs, AR, USA; Western Kentucky Hilltoppers guard Kahlil McDonald (3) is called for a foul as North Texas Mean Green guard Alzee Williams (3) attempts a shot during the finals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament at the Summit Arena. Western Kentucky defeated North Texas 74-70. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
About 20 minutes before tipoff, we found out Alzee Williams was suspended for the game for breaking team rules, the 4th Mean Green player to have that happen this season. The loss of Williams further depleted a UNT squad that has been plagued by injuries. North Texas is particularly think at guard after losing Chris Jones and Brandon Walton for the year.
The first half was a ‘tale of halves’. Other than Jordan Williams, who scored the teams’ first 9 points, the Mean Green came out shooting poorly. Keith Coleman and Tony Mitchell helped out with a few buckets, but then ULM went on a run that put the Mean Green behind 21-13 with 8 minutes to go in the first half. North Texas then went on a 15-0 run to take the lead before ULM tied it u at 30 just before the half. Jordan Williams finished with 13 in the first half, Tony Mitchell and Justin Patton each added 5.
Based on the first half, the focus for the Mean Green should have been to keep the pressure up on defense and push the ball in transition more aggressively. The second half started with the Mean Green trading leads with ULM; neither team could maintain a lead.
Justin Patton had 11 second half points. His energy on offense and defense was visible all night, and he ended up with the ball in the right spot inside multiple times. Jordan Williams cooled off in the second half, scoring just 5 more points. Tony Mitchell added 10 second half points, giving him 15 for the game.
With 5:48 remaining, the Mean Green had a 61-60 lead over the Warhawks, but ULM outscored them 21-7 to close out the game. The Mean Green were trying to fight their way back into the game ( they were trailing 68-64) when ULM’s Marcelis Hansberry hit a dagger 3 at the shot clock buzzer with 1:08 remaining. ULM would go on to score 10 more points in the final minute to win 81-68.
The key to this game was that the Mean Green couldn’t secure rebounds or stop ULM on second chances. North Texas was out-rebounded by a team much smaller and less athletic than them (ULM had 10 more rebounds). Other than the problem with rebounds, the defense wasn’t that bad and the offense actually looked pretty good for one of the few times this season.
After the game, Jordan Williams said that fatigue might have been an issue toward the end of the game on the glass. Williams was one of 4 players (Mitchell, Hardwick, and Franklin) who played 32 or more minutes. Mean Green players logging so much playing time is something that will probably continue because of injuries. ULM’s Jayon James led the team in scoring with 19 points and 10 rebounds, and Amos Olatayo had 17.
As mentioned earlier, Alzee Williams was suspended for the game due to breaking team rules. Mean Green Coach Tony Benford wouldn’t divulge anymore information on why Williams was suspended. He becomes the 4th player (along with Tony Mitchell, Jordan Williams, and Keith Coleman), to be suspended this season for breaking team rules . The UNT Mean Green are already shorthanded because of injuries, so suspensions make other players play more minutes. When players have to play more than normal, they become fatigued, and that ultimately leads to losses. Williams suspension put the Mean Green in bad spot, although Justin Patton did step up and played a heck of a game. It may be Alzee’s first offense, but this team has to get serious about following the rules if they hope to make a conference run.
I asked Coach Benford about the discipline issues and he said:
"“We don’t have a lot of rules but the ones we have we are going to follow. And I’m not going to budge on them. Its more than games, its about life lessons. That’s the only way they’re going to be successful when they leave here. “"
Benford is very firm on his rules and clearly he won’t budge, so Mean Green fans can only hope that the team learns to play by the rules. The Mean Green will travel to Little Rock to play UALR on Thursday before returning to the Super Pit next Saturday to play South Alabama