Heartbreak in Hot Springs: North Texas 70 WKU 74

We were punched in the gut for the second year in a row. Same result from different opponents.

This was a lot different than last season, though. That was the last hurrah for the most successful class in UNT history, this is the start of the most talented. All five starters in the SBC title game were  underclassmen, and we were missing the talented duo of Chris Jones and Jordan Williams this time.

I am more optimistic than last year. Back then, the new guys were all potential. We know what CJ can do now. We saw him get buckets to start the campaign. We saw Jordan get in passing lanes and cash threes.

Oh and if Tony comes back? Yeah, he is just a once-in-a-generation caliber player. So there’s that.

Losing still hurts, though. There will be a time where it won’t be excused away. That isn’t now. Last year  Soloman Bozeman, SB POY, cashed a clutch three in Shannon Shorter’s eye. This year it was a youngish squad that had problems closing games out having a problem closing a game out.

I cannot be angry at them. I can be devastated. I can be heartbroken. I can feel like I had my gut punched and the life drained from my body. I can be sports-sad. I cannot be angry.

It was a hell of a good time this season. Tony Mitchell was all he was hyped to be and about 30% more. Even if we won’t see him fly in the Super Pit anymore we will still have all those highlights of him wearing the colors. He will always be ours.

As far as the future goes, Johnny Jones is still the coach and that means we have a chance.  He has built this thing into as much of a juggernaut as can be done this side of WKU. Every good thing that has happened has been under his watch. In this decade, we have gone from complete nothings to trending topics in DFW. If Denton/Dallas were a basketball town, there would be much more hype and love coming his way. As it is, he is appreciated by those who know the game and have seen the improvement. For all the hype and money and support football gets, UNT basketball has outperformed that program year after year under Johnny Jones. He gets talent to play here and then turns said talent into wins. Think about it, people: three straight Sun Belt title trips. Two NCAA tournament trips. Two back-to-back heartbreakers isn’t negative momentum. If it was, do you think we’d be getting guys like Chris, Jordan, Roger, Trey, and TONY?

Nope. They see this program as a viable, winning option in the same way guys like George Odufuwa, Tristan Thompson, and Josh White did because of what JJ did with the previous classes. It is a process and it is working. I’m hella excited about the future, and were I the suggestin’ type, I would say you should be, too.

Chris Jones, Jordan Williams, Jacob Holmen, Tony Mitchell, and Roger Franklin? With Trey Norris, Brandon Walton, and Alzee Williams off the bench? I’m hyped already. The team will have an entire year to mesh, and a SBC title game loss to fuel them.

In a rebuilding year, this team achieved what a senior-laden, former SBC championship caliber team did. This SBC title game is our rightful place in this world, now. I said it last year and it is still, true. Getting there is a Should, winning is the Challenge.

The Game Proper:

It seems to me like fatigue was the culprit. Alzee missed two free throws in a crucial spot, and Brandon was swiped on back-to-back possessions. The rebounding looked a step too slow (again), and there were mental mistakes throughout, but especially late. Criticism of the players who were declared ineligible mid-season can be placed here. The fact that Tyler Hall was getting 17 minutes in the SBC title game is telling. He availed himself well, but he is a walk-on. Chris Jones is a scholarship  player who averaged nearly 14 per game as a freshman. Those boys know their mistake. They tweeted as much. No need to pile on.*

*That isn’t a knock on Ty. Dude went out there and busted his ass. Facts are facts though.

Closing games was the weakness of this version of North Texas basketball for all of the ’11-’12 season. That we fell victim to said weakness in this moment should not surprise. That we were unable to get Tony the ball in scoring position late in the game is similarly unsurprising. More experienced and talented players playing with him next year will be able to find him when he is open and streaking toward the rim, or calling for it on the wing against their tall, slow, big man.

It is important to congratulate WKU. The Zen view of this thing says that there is benefit to building a rivalry with that team. Someone needs to inspire hate and feeling in this spread-out conference. It might as well be them.

Going forward, we might not even be in this conference, or it will look vastly different than currently constructed. Denver is bouncing to the WAC, and UTSA is rumored to join up. The Mega-Conference Super Fun Time MAC Yeah may be courting us as we speak (and drown our sorrows).

Whatever the case may be, I know that this basketball team will be fun to watch. It has been criminally under-appreciated for a six or seven years now and the fact that it is over a smidgen too soon hurts most of all.

 

Go Mean Green.