Alex Lessard | Associate Sports Editor
Tough losses and missed opportunities were the themes of the fourth radio show of the season Monday afternoon at Rudy’s BBQ. In front of the local crowd, both women’s head coach Jalie Mitchell and men’s head coach Tony Benford returned to talk about last Saturday’s games and preview the upcoming week of North Texas basketball.
First Half: Jalie Mitchell
In its highly anticipated rematch with Rice University on Saturday at the Super Pit, the women’s team fell 79-73 in double overtime, posting yet another game with a dramatic finish. Junior guard Kelsey Criner and senior forward Acheil Tac each fouled out of the game late, but Mitchell remained confident the Mean Green (8-10, 3-5) could avenge its 100-97 triple overtime loss to the Owls on Jan. 10.
“Those are two players that we run a lot of plays through,” Mitchell said. “But at the same time, I thought it could be done still had we taken care of the ball and had we taken more quality shots.”
Helping the team pick up the slack for two of its stars was freshman guard Orianna Shillow, who had only earned two minutes of playing time all season before being inserted into the starting lineup for the first time. Shillow led the team with 16 points, including five three-pointers.
“I was hoping that her nerves wouldn’t come out, and they didn’t,” Mitchell said. “Once she knocked down her first three, it was just like normal, like it’s an everyday thing.”
Shillow was a guest on the show this week to cover her journey from receiving an academic scholarship from Stony Point High School to becoming a walk-on with North Texas. After seeing a flier for team tryouts and joining the team in the fall, the freshman said she didn’t think twice once her first shot from long distance went in.
“It was really fun,” Shillow said. “I made some of them in practice, but in the game, it was much more special. They kept on going in, so I was like ‘Okay, let me try another one.’”
Mitchell’s squad will play two road games this week, each of which come against opponents that sit ahead of North Texas in the Conference-USA standings. However, the pecking order is bunched up tight at this point in the season, as nine of fourteen teams have just a 1.5 game difference in conference record.
“They’re going to get after us, and I think that’s why the focus needs to be us,” Mitchell said. “Making sure you take care of the ball, making sure you take good shots and making sure you do what you need to do to make North Texas successful.”
Second Half: Tony Benford
The men’s team (7-14, 2-6) was not able to put an end to its losing streak Saturday, falling 95-87 on the road to Rice University. North Texas had all five of its starters score in double figures, but allowed 55 points defensively in the second half.
“You score 87 points, you should win the game,” Benford said. “We’ve just got to do a better job on the defensive end, and we will. We’re going to go to work today, work on our defense, break things down on tape and get back to fundamentals.”
Benford said a lack of energy was a reason for some of the team’s defensive breakdowns in the fourth quarter. Four of the Mean Green starters played at least 36 minutes in the game, and the team’s bench only produced three points.
“It’s tough,” Benford said. “We’re trying to get our bench in there to give those guys a break, and I thought we did that at times the other night. We gave J-Mychal a couple breaks before timeouts, we gave Jeremy a break before a timeout. I thought that helped a little bit.”
A lack of production from the bench has plagued Benford’s squad in recent weeks, only scoring 18 points in the team’s last four games. Similar to Shillow’s performance in her first game as a starter, redshirt sophomore guard Jacob Gross said during his guest appearance that he hopes to make an impact for his team when he’s called upon. Gross made his only career field goal against Oklahoma State University last season.
“Being on a big stage like that gave me the jitters,” Gross said. “But then, I was out there for a little bit, so I was able to calm myself down. The ball ended up being skipped to me, and I heard coach right behind my ear and he said ‘shoot it,’ so I let it fly.”
The men’s team will return to Denton for two home games this week, looking to get back in the win column for the first time since Jan. 9. With freshman center Rickey Brice Jr. probable to return, Benford said he hopes his defense can get stops when it needs to and control the tempo of the game.
“This is a big week for us,” Benford said. “If we can take care of home court, we have a chance to continue to move up and be in position at fifth or sixth place in the league.”
Featured Image: Men’s basketball head coach Tony Benford and Dave Barnett talk on the Coach’s Show at Rudy’s BBQ. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer