I arrived at North Texas' Tuesday night game against Grambling the same way I have for many a game over my time at the university, by taking exit 466B off of Interstate 35E to get to The Super Pit, which the Mean Green call home. This game, however, was one I anticipated as more than just a December contest against an 0-7 SWAC team.
Due to other commitments and a quirky UNT schedule, December 20 was the first time I was able to see a game at a venue I have frequented during my time at the university, which has covered four and a half years and work on two academic degrees. For the last few years, I was able to catch up with the newcomers on the team in short order over the early season, as there weren't an overwhelming number of JUCOs and freshmen joining the Mean Green. But due to seven seniors graduating from last year's 22-win team that came within a heartbreaking possession of a second consecutive NCAA Tournament bid (#ThisGameWillHurtYou), eight newcomers feature on the 2011-12 Mean Green. While I saw most of the new boys on TV when UNT played two Big 12 schools in November, it's impressive to see your school's best recruiting class ever in person for the first time.
One of those newcomers is freshman Tony Mitchell, a nationally top-ranked player in the high school class of 2010. Originally signed to play with Missouri, the Dallas native was ruled ineligible last season due to inconsistencies with academic credits at two high schools. Mizzou's loss was UNT's gain, as Mitchell enrolled in Denton in January with the goal of being ruled eligible by December 17. Because the 6-8 forward spent plenty of time on campus without seeing game action, the Legend of Tony Mitchell picked up steam as his year of acquiring eligibility progressed.
"I heard he dropped 50 in a pick-up game with all D-I players."
"He played against my friends who were All-State in high school at the Rec and dunked on them every time down the floor."
"You know he'd have been a lottery pick this year, right?"
No matter the veracity of those stories or claims, Tuesday night was only Mitchell's second game since becoming eligible on Sunday against Jackson State. He was clearly the most intimidating player on the floor with the best athletic ability, and accounted for a few #OMGDUNX, but also committed a few mistakes and the kinds of unnecessary fouls that should decrease as the year goes on. The aforementioned quirky schedule means that Mitchell will play his first six collegiate games wearing home whites. Those six are part of an eight-game homestand for the Mean Green, in a luxury rarely provided to teams below the Red Line at this time of year. (They paid for it by not playing a home game against a Division I side until the beginning of the homestand on December 10.)
From the outset, UNT's superior physical attributes were apparent, even if the scoreboard didn't immediately reflect it. Grambling was able to keep the game relatively close until the under-four timeout, at which point freshmen guards Chris Jones and Jordan Williams helped UNT shake off a sluggish offensive start to go ahead by twelve at the half, 32-20. In the second half, the Mean Green rolled, wearing down and dominating a Grambling team that was playing a SWAC-standard seventh road game out of eight overall. The Tigers put just seven players into game action, and only dressed eight. The final result was a dubl-up and a basket, 82-40.
One of the most remarkable feats during the two hours in which the game took place did not come in the course of the 40 minutes of play, but during the under-12 first half timeout. It was a standard half-court shot contest, one that probably goes on at 100 different schools across Hoops Nation. The contestant did not win, but the process to get to that point was unlike any contest of that nature I have ever seen. The would-be hot-wings winner, about 6-1 or so, shot his three attempts with a delivery that resembled a three-quarter arm angle found in baseball. As such, there was no second hand guiding the ball to its hopeful destination about 40 feet away. Every successful half-court shot I have ever seen has had some role for the second hand. Yet, the contestant came about eight pixels from success twice.
The Mean Green are next in action Thursday night against another group of Tigers, LSU. Not only is it a rare occasion where an SEC school plays a true road game at a Sun Belt school, but it is a return game of a Red Line Upset from exactly a year prior. In that game, North Texas went to Baton Rouge and won by 20. The contest against the Bayou Bengals represents the Mean Green's last chance to pull off an RLU in the regular season.
at NORTH TEXAS 82, GRAMBLING 40 12/20/2011
GRAMBLING 0-8 (0-0) -- K. Mutakabbir 6-11 6-7 19; R. Livas 4-13 3-4 12; X. Rogers 1-11 1-2 3; P. Roberson 6-14 0-0 12; B. Purvis 0-3 3-4 3; D. Wheeler 3-4 0-0 6; S. Danridge 0-1 1-4 1; R. Higgins 1-3 0-0 3. Totals 15-49 8-14 40. NORTH TEXAS 6-5 (0-0) -- A. Williams 1-4 0-0 2; J. Williams 5-12 3-4 15; C. Jones 7-11 5-6 20; T. Mitchell 4-6 2-4 10; B. Walton 3-8 2-2 11; R. Franklin 5-9 4-4 14; T. Norris 0-0 0-0 0; N. Stojiljkovic 0-2 0-2 0; K. Hogans 3-4 2-4 8; A. Edwards 0-1 2-2 2. Totals 28-57 20-28 82.
Three-point goals: GRAM 2-10 (B. Purvis 0-1; R. Livas 1-3; R. Higgins 1-2; X. Rogers 0-4), NTEX 6-17 (A. Williams 0-1; C. Jones 1-4; B. Walton 3-6; J. Williams 2-6); Rebounds: GRAM 21 (P. Roberson 7), NTEX 42 (T. Mitchell 8); Assists: GRAM 11 (R. Livas 7), NTEX 16 (C. Jones 5); Total Fouls -- GRAM 22, NTEX 16; Fouled Out: GRAM-None; NTEX-T. Mitchell.