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- The spirits of Denton
- A living canvas
- UPC music series brings South Carolina singer to UNT
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- Festival Review: Austin City Limits
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Opinion: Real talk with Ryne: Postseason success would forgive disappointing season
Ryne Gannoe / Senior Staff Writer
Sophomore forward Tony Mitchell fell to his knees after time expired in last year’s Sun Belt Conference championship game. Confetti and the Western Kentucky University’s celebration covered the floor around him as former Mean Green men’s basketball coach Johnny Jones comforted his star player. The 74-70 loss brought an end to the almost fairytale season for UNT.
The team faced the adversity of losing then-freshman guards Chris Jones and Jordan Williams because of academic issues. Several injuries forced walk-ons like the now-graduated Tyler Hall and bench players like senior forward Niko Stojiljkovic to make more out of their minutes.
The team made it to the conference final, leading most of the way. Fans watched as the 13-point lead dwindled with the clock.
Mitchell said that was the moment he knew he would return for a sophomore season, an unexpected gift to the Mean Green faithful. No player of Mitchell’s talent, athleticism or notoriety had ever played for UNT. His return set up some of the biggest hopes for a Mean Green team in any sport, ever.
Mitchell and the core players of last year’s 18-14 roster would be back. Even with Johnny Jones’s departure to LSU and the hiring of first-time head coach, and former Marquette assistant coach, Tony Benford, UNT set an expectation which most of the fan base bought into. Mitchell’s draft projections, pre-season accolades and the new recruiting class only added to the high level of anticipation.
As the new season started, those dreams crumbled one loss at a time. The half-court offense seemed aimless. The list of players lost to injury kept growing: senior guard Brandon Walton, senior forward Jacob Holmen, senior forward Justin Patton and sophomore guard Chris Jones all had serious injuries. Other minor nicks and scrapes caused the team to play games with as few as eight players.
The team is 10-18 and near the bottom of the Sun Belt West, the division it was projected to win. Expectations turned to let downs and the part of the fan base that hadn’t yet hopped off the bandwagon still couldn’t believe the underachievement.
The good news is the team is finally looking up. Williams has taken over the title of the team’s lead scorer, the offense is beginning to look cohesive and Benford said Chris Jones might return before the Sun Belt tournament.
This is all just in time. The Mean Green has three games before the tournament where, as the team saw last year, anything can happen. While a pretty record and division championship dreams may have died, the Mean Green may find redemption in the chaos of post-season basketball.