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Road Trip Stories: North Texas Basketball Beats Rice 66-63

North Texas beat Rice on a rainy Sunday in Houston. I left my home in San Antonio at 1030am, arrived at surprisingly nice Tudor Fieldhouse at about 2:20 and took in a leisurely weekend game between two bottom half teams in C-USA.

The great thing about road trips is that they provide all the time in the world to think. You get past the niceties of a conversation. You don’t just think about the game you saw, you think about the program.

★ ★ ★

North Texas’s defense looks beastly against a team that can’t shoot or dribble or score. Rice is one of those teams and they looked frazzled against the traps employed by the Fightin’ Benfords. Against a better team, this would have been a loss, most likely, as North Texas had a hard time at the free throw line. Even Rice will hit the occasional three and they did so late in the game to make it interesting.

All we needed to do was hit some freebies. We didn’t. They made it close.

That’s about it. It was an ugly game for the most part. North Texas doesn’t really play free-flowing beautiful basketball and that is fine. I don’t necessarily need that in my life. I just would like some winning basketball. They have provided that at a decent rate.

But “decent” is a little less than the message boarders want in a basketball team. There are threads talking about 2010 wistfully, and full of nostalgia for the good old days. I had season tickets then so that kind of talk just makes me feel kind of old and I’m not even 30, you guys.

There is no doubt the excitement around this program has waned during the Reign of Benford and really no one is happy about it. This team, middling through CUSA, is scrappy, hard working, and missing essential ball-handlers. The promising freshman — Jeremy Combs — isn’t as fun (or turnover-prone) as Chris Jones was when he was freshman but the future looks decidedly dimmer than it did then.

And that’s weird.

And it is sad.

Still, I believe in the fun of college basketball, and road trips, and hanging out with one’s family so I traversed to Houston and had a good time. Maybe getting older has softened me a little bit in that I am less angry that the basketball team isn’t on the precipice of National Prominence anymore and instead am relatively happy that twice a year North Texas basketball will make a trip within driving distance.

I don’t know the answer to these questions. I do wish that I had more cash to throw around at the program. Maybe then we could stop saying we don’t have the money to make big changes. We all know that little old North Texas isn’t raking in the cash and doesn’t have the facilities to draw in recruits and blah [trails off muttering rehashed reasons for mediocrity… ]. I find it difficult to digest those reasons when we lost to a team with a horrible basketball arena (UTSA) and barely beat a terrible team with a nice facility (Rice).

I’d really like to see more of a commitment to being a better basketball program — and I emphasize program over team because we’ve had good teams here. A good program produces good teams. We have a mediocre program at best, and that produces mediocre teams. This is also why, although I’m a bit jealous that SMU is producing a good team, I don’t fear them (yet) because they haven’t had a good program. A good coach does not a program make. We had a good coach. He built up five straight good teams and brought in talent and we kind of squandered all that.

★ ★ ★

Jordan Williams passed Calvin Watson for 12th on the all-time scoring list. He, Chris Jones, and Tony Mitchell were supposed to continue the legacy left by Josh White and Tristan Thompson. Whereas JW has been everything we hoped he would be — a scorer, lengthy defender (91 career steals), clutch, — the rest of the team hasn’t. Tony Mitchell burned bright in one season-plus here and left to the Association. Chris Jones was hurt, suspended, enigmatic and talented in his time here. We really miss him.

Would having a better program enabled this staff to have a backup point guard on the roster when J’Mychal Reese’s request was denied? I can’t say for sure but I want to say yes. I feel like I get trapped in excuse-making if I say it wouldn’t. I feel like I am being ungrateful and hate-blogging if I say yes.

One of the joys of getting older and wiser is the greater appreciation of nuance. The understanding that comes from the simpler things. It is that same appreciation and understanding that will accept mediocrity. I mean, if you aren’t upset with a mediocre basketball team, an unfilled arena, and having 2-guards run the point what would make you want a change?

Screaming and raging against that good night are exhausting endeavors, and easier managed when your job isn’t draining, or actually taxing. I mean, I began my internet hot takes while working a lame job at the mall. I needed something to do while watching old people walk at ten in the morning.

It is a little harder to complain about fouls in the paint when there are actual life-and-death injustices in the world. You almost need to be immature and naive. That’s what young people are for. So I now know how you begin the slow slip to resignation. I am not quite there yet — I don’t have rug rats, nor am I confined to suburbia — but I definitely see the exit sign.

★ ★ ★

Next up: at Charlotte on the 15th at 6pm.


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