What UNT fans should be thankful for on Thanksgiving

North Texas fans have a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving, including Apogee Stadium,. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

North Texas fans have a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving, including Apogee Stadium,. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

Today is not just the one time a year we wolf down turkey across this great nation. It’s also a time we stop to give thanks for our many blessings — life, family and freedom among them.

But what should UNT fans be thankful for?

Times are tough in Mean Green land these days. The UNT football team is in the midst of its 10th losing season in the last 11 and another coaching search.

The UNT men’s basketball team has lost all three of its games against Division I opponents this season — all of them coming in the Mean Green’s home tournament.

Even with that being the case, there is plenty to be grateful for when it comes to UNT athletics. Here are just a few examples …

1. Apogee Stadium

UNT has one of the nicest stadiums among G5 programs in the country in Apogee Stadium. It’s a great venue, is well designed and fits in perfectly with the Mean Green Athletic Center. UNT is struggling now and has been for most of the last decade, but having Apogee gives the school a chance to rebound.

Athletic director Rick Villarreal said shortly after Dan McCarney departed that UNT has everything it needs to be competitive in Texas. That is debatable, but is definitely true when it comes to its home stadium.

UNT would be in a world of hurt at this point if it was still playing in Fouts Field.

2. A spot in Conference USA

UNT is also in a better situation now than it has been for most of its history as a member of Conference USA. UNT spent 11 years as the only Texas team in the Sun Belt Conference.

C-USA is a great league for UNT in comparison, largely because it has in-state rivals UTEP, UTSA and Rice to play on a regular basis. Louisiana Tech is also just across the border and ranks as a rival that draws interest.

UNT fans should be thankful for the opportunity to play in the league.

3. A few good programs people tend to forget about

Football drives the bus at UNT. There’s no doubt about it, especially now that interest in the Mean Green’s men’s basketball program has fallen off a bit, but if one looks past those two programs, there is a lot to like at UNT. The UNT soccer team made the NCAA tournament again this year and the school’s tennis program is competitive on a national level. Dig even deeper and UNT also has a very good men’s golf program.

4. Funding that allows UNT to make some moves

There was a time not too long ago when UNT had to fight to make ends meet and play three or four guarantee/body bag/opportunity games in football a year for funding purposes. UNT has an increased student athletics fee in place and a group of donors that has thrown its collective weight behind the program, which has helped matters and will continue to pay dividends down the line.

Times are tough right now at UNT, but there are things to be thankful for these days.

Prediction: UNT will finish on a high note with win over UTEP

North Texas running back Jeffrey Wilson, right, celebrates with Carlos Harris after scoring a touchdown earlier this season. UNT will host UTEP on Saturday. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

North Texas running back Jeffrey Wilson, right, celebrates with Carlos Harris after scoring a touchdown earlier this season. UNT will host UTEP on Saturday. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

UTEP at North Texas

When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Apogee Stadium

Records: UNT 1-10, 1-6 C-USA; UTEP 4-7, 2-5 C-USA

TV: Fox Sports Net

What’s on the line?

The way UNT’s season finale against UTEP sets up changed in a flash last week when the Miners lost a heart breaker to Conference USA power Louisiana Tech. The Miners had a chance to kick the go-ahead field goal in the closing minutes, but Jay Mattox pushed it wide left. Louisiana Tech held on for a 17-15 win and handed UTEP its seventh loss, eliminating the Miners from bowl contention. It was a huge break for UNT, which would have faced a team with a lot to play for in its final game. Now all both teams are playing for is pride. A win would send UNT’s seniors and interim coach Mike Canales out on a high note and would also allow this season’s edition of the Mean Green to avoid going down as just the second team in program history to lose 11 games in a season.

When UNT has the ball

UNT continued to struggle offensively last week in a 41-7 loss to Middle Tennessee. UNT finished with just 324 yards of total offense. The Mean Green drove down the field on their first drive after falling behind 7-0 early, but stalled out at the 25-yard line before Trevor Moore missed a 42-yard field goal. Not much went right the rest of the way for UNT, continuing a season-long trend. The Mean Green rank last in C-USA in scoring with an average of 15.0 points a game and could have a tough time against UTEP’s defense that has given up 21 points or fewer in three of its last five games.

When UTEP has the ball

UTEP’s season took a turn for the worse when the Miners lost star running back Aaron Jones for the season after just three games and later lost quarterback Mack Leftwich. Here’s a video of the hit that took him out. The son of former UNT assistant and current UTEP assistant Spencer Leftwich has returned, but the Miners have since turned to freshman Ryan Metz. The Miners have also used more spread formations and moved away from the power running game. UNT has struggled all season long defensively and suffered through another tough day last week in its loss to MTSU. UNT ranks last in C-USA with an average of 43.2 points allowed a game.


This game had all the makings of a beating for UNT just a few days ago, when UTEP was on the verge of knocking off Louisiana Tech. A win there would have given the Miners five wins and a lot to play for against the Mean Green. Now this game looks like one that will come down to who shows up to play on what is expected to be a miserable day in terms of the weather in Denton. Canales will have the Mean Green ready to go in his final game in six seasons with the program. UTEP might not have nearly the juice it did last week after blowing a chance to set up a season a game against UNT with a bowl berth on the line.

Score: UNT 24, UTEP 23

Late-night hoops rewind with a Harris update (he was told to stay in locker room)

Final: Troy 86, UNT 74



Where UNT stands: The big news after UNT’s third straight loss wasn’t so much that the Mean Green lost another game. It was that UNT might have lost one of its better players. Junior guard DeAndre Harris didn’t come out for the second half. Word quickly spread that Harris had left at halftime, putting his future at UNT in doubt. UNT coach Tony Benford addressed the situation after the game and said there was an incident on the bench during the game and that a UNT assistant told Harris to stay in the locker room at halftime. Benford said that he would investigate the situation and provide an update later. Harris is a key cog in UNT’s lineup and came into the night averaging 11.3 points a game. He is UNT’s best 3-point shooter.

Now what?: UNT lost its final three games in the Mean Green Challenge and will now have to move forward with Harris’ status in question. UNT has much better depth at guard this year and doesn’t have nearly as many problems scoring consistently. With that being said, having Harris would make UNT a much better team. UNT could certainly use him after digging itself a huge hole after losing three winnable games at home. The Mean Green will now face Northern Iowa, which knocked off North Carolina, a tough UTA team that has wins over Ohio State and Memphis, and then take on Southern Illinois, which won its first five games of the season, in a home-and-home series.

Star of the day: Allante Holston had a terrific game with 17 points and seven rebounds. He hit nine of his 10 free throw attempts and nearly matched his season scoring output of 19 points over four games in a single outing.

Say what?

“It’s a long season. We have put ourselves in a hole. Those were good teams, but we are getting ready to play some really good teams. We know what lies ahead. We will find out what we are made of. No one is going to quit.”

– Toiny Benford, UNT coach after the Mean Green lost their third straight game, falling to Idaho and Samford in addition to Troy

Our take: UNT really, really needed to capitalize on a series of five home games to start the season and fumbled the opportunity. Granted, UNT beat both of its NAIA opponents to open the season, but lost its first three games against Division I opponents.

UNT now has four games coming up that look like huge challenges.

The big question is what Harris’ future with the program will be. He was toseed from games twice and was also suspended last year for an incident on the bench.

Benford has given Harris plenty of chances to mature and find his place at UNT. The question now is if those opportunities have run out.

The problem is UNT needs all the help it can get and Harris is one of its more talented players. UNT might not be able to cut ties with Harris in a do-or-die season and still manage to clear the .500 mark for the first time in its fourth season under Benford.

2015 recruit DiMikal Harrison says he’s leaving UNT

UNT’s 2015 recruiting class lost another member on Wednesday night when DiMikal Harrison tweeted that he is leaving the Mean Green’s program at the end of the semester.

Harrison was a highly regarded defensive line prospect with several offers. He originally committed to UTEP, but backed out and signed with UNT largely because the school is close to his home in Midwest City.

Harrison sat out this season as a redshirt and vanished from the limelight.

He was expected to contribute down the line, but now becomes another casualty of UNT’s 2015 signing class. JUCO cornerback Xavier Grindle didn’t quaalify academically, while offensive lineman Brian Ochs had to leave the program to return home due to family issues.

Breaking — DeAndre Harris left team at halftime.

UNT guard DeAndre Harris left the team at halftime of its game against Troy at the Super Pit, a university spokesman confirmed.

Harris played just four minutes in the first half of the Mean Green’s 86-74 loss. He did not come out after halftime.

The junior guard came into the night as UNT’s third-leading scorer with an average of 11.3 points a game. He has had a troubled tenure throughout his time at UNT.

Harris was ejected from games twice last season and was suspended on multiple occasions. He was sent home from a road trip last season after one of his ejections.

UNT coach Tony Benford said Harris has done a better job of keeping his emotions in check this season after he picked up a technical foul.

Harris scored a season-high 18 points in the Mean Green’s opener against Texas College and 10 in a loss to Idaho.

UNT has lost three straight against Division I competition after opening the season with two runaway wins over NAIA teams. and is 2-3 on the season.

UNT-Troy running blog

UNT will try to win its final game in the Mean Green Challenge tonight in a game against Troy.

The Mean Green lost to Idaho and Samford in a couple of close games to open the event. UNT (2-2) really needs this one with a tough series of games coming up against Northern Iowa, UTA and a home-and-home with Southern Illinois looming.

Jeremy Combs is averaging 18.5 points a game to lead UNT, which has four players averaging double figures. Troy is 2-3 and has lost three straight, including games against Samford and Idaho this week in the Mean Green Challenge. Both teams beat UNT.

Jordon Varnado and Wesley Person are both averaging 18.0 points a game to lead Troy. Varnado, a 6-6 freshman, is a similar player to Combs.

That should be a matchup to watch.

Stay tuned. I will update the blog all night

15:32 — UNT is down 8-5 at the first media timeout of the first half. The Mean Green ran out to a 5-0 lead, but has given up an 8-0 run. Allante Holston converted a three-point play and leads UNT with three points. UNT has three turnovers.

11:56 — UNT is down 15-9 in the early going here at the Super Pit. The Mean Green were up 5-2 before giving up a 15-2 run. Jeremy Combs hit a pair of free throws to break the run. Combs is a ton better from the line than he used to be. He has four points to lead the Mean Green.

9:45 — UNT is on a 10-0 run and has taken a 17-15 lead. Carrington Ward has four points in the surge. Troy has called a timeout.

7:35 — A game of runs has swung back in Troy’s favor. The Trojans have scored the last four points and are back up 19-18. Allante Holston has five points for UNT. The Mean Green have missed all four of their 3-point attempts.

3:59 — UNT is down 27-24 at the final media timeout of the first half. Troy has scored the last four points and just missed an open look to go up five. Deckie Johnson and Allante Holston both have five points for UNT.

Halftime — UNT went on a 7-0 run late in the first half and is up 33-31 at halftime here at the Super Pit. Deckie Johnson hit a big 3 to spark the Mean Green’s surge. Troy scored the final points of the half after UNT went up four. Allante Holston has nine points and seven rebounds for UNT. The Mean Green have a 26-19 edge on the boards, but have hit just one of their six 3-point attempts.

15:19 — UNT is down 43-38 early in the second half. Wesley Person hit a 3 for Troy before Deckie Johnson answered with one of his own. Troy came right back down and Person hit another on a nifty drop pass. Johnson has 11 for UNT.

12:43 — Troy has pushed its lead to 50-43 and is headed to the line, where it will try to complete a three-point play. The Trojans have scored the last five points. UNT has 15 turnovers, which is not helping its cause much.

11:43 — UNT is down 51-46 with Troy headed to the line after this timeout. DeAndre Harris played just five minutes in the first half and isn’t on the bench. Deckie Johnson has 11 points for UNT.

8:32 — Troy has pulled out to a 62-51 lead in the second half. UNT was down 14 before Carrington Ward hit a 3.

7:26 — UNT is down 67-51 after Wesley Person stuck a 3 and Jeremy Hollimon scored. Troy is on an 11-3 run. Carrington Ward pumped in a 3 for UNT’s only points during Troy’s surge.

6:06 — UNT has pul;ed within 69-57 as we head down the stretch in the second half.

3:34 — UNT is down 77-64 at the final media timeout and is in a world of trouble. Allante Holton has 15 points and Deckie Johnson 11 for UNT. Wesley Person has 24 for Troy and is having a monster game.

Final — Troy 86, UNT 74. Check back later for the rewind.

Wednesday afternoon coach search update

The UNT coaching search continued to work its way toward a conclusion Wednesday afternoon, when Football Scoop, a college football site that specializes in coaching searches and inside info, reported that the school is down to four candidates.

The site confirmed what we reported on the blog earlier — that Baylor offensive coordinator Kendal Briles and Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley are not among the final four coaches UNT is considering.

A source close to Mike Norvell said earlier this week that he is not interested in the position, a fact the Football Scoop report echoed.

Texas offensive coordinator Jay Norvell has been mentioned as a coach UNT could be interested in both this time and in its last coaching search before the school settled on Dan McCarney. He is also not among the four, according to the report.

Texas Tech assistant Mike Jinks, Arizona State assistant Chris Thomsen and Trinity Valley coach Brad Smiley also do not appear to be among the four coaches UNT is interviewing. One candidate in the group was told he wouldn’t hear from UNT until after the Mean Green’s final game.

UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal said shortly after parting ways with Dan McCarney that he wanted to find an offensive-minded coach who would appeal to Texas high school players.

Offensive coordinators have been at the top of UNT’s list of potential targets all along.

A few names that have been connected to the UNT job that still make sense are TCU co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie and former Texas quarterback and Houston assistant coach Major Applewhite.

Late night hoops rewind: Samford 74, UNT 72

Final: Samford 74, UNT 72

Where UNT stands: The Mean Green have lost two straight and fell back to the .500 mark after dropping each of their first two games against Division I opponents after opening the season with a pair of runaways over NAIA teams

Now what?: UNT will close out play in the Mean Green Challenge with a 4:30 p.m. game today against Troy.



Star of the day: Jeremy Combs continued to play well while scoring 18 points and pulling down nine rebounds in UNT’s loss to Samford. What might have been even more significant was the fact that Combs went 12-for-16 from the free-throw line where he has struggled throughout his career. The sophomore came in having his just eight of his 21 attempts from the line on the season.

Say what?

“It’s disappointing. We knew some solid teams were coming in. We have to put 40 minutes together. I have told our guys that we have a long season. We have to start with one and that starts tomorrow. We let two get away.”

– Tony Benford, UNT head coach after the Mean Green dropped their second straight game in the Mean Green Challenge

Our take: UNT suffered a second straight tough loss on its home floor when it couldn’t close out Samford. The Mean Green desperately need to at least creep over the .500 mark at the end of the year and set the schedule up to give themselves a chance with five straight home games to open the season.

UNT opened against a pair of NAIA teams with three games against Division I team that aren’t exactly household names to close out that early-season series. UNT took care of the NAIA teams (Jarvis Christian and Texas College), but is back at .500 after losses to Idaho and Samford.

Those losses leave UNT in a tough spot. UNT will face a Troy team that is 3-2 today and then play a Northern Iowa team that knocked off North Carolina, a tough UTA team that has wins over Ohio State and Memphis and then take on Southern Illinois, which is 5-0, in a home-and-home series.

If UNT can’t beat Troy today, it’s hard to see where the Mean Green could pick up their first win over a Division I program this season.


UNT-Samford running blog

UNT will take on Samford tonight here at the Super Pit in its second game of three straight in the Mean Green Challenge.

UNT lost last night to Idaho 65-63 and will look to bounce back. The Mean Green had every opportunity to knock off the Vandals, but were awful down the stretch.

Samford beat Troy last night.

Jeremy Combs is averaging 18.7 points and 10.3 rebounds a game to lead UNT, which has four players averaging double figures. Those averages were inflated a bit by a pair of runaway wins over NAIA teams to open the season.

UNT scored 112 and 110 points in those two games, but managed just 63 last night.

One of the key storylines heading into last night’s game was that freshman center Rickey Brice was battling a sprained ankle and was only cleared to play at the last minute. He is out there and ready to go tonight.

Samford has a trio of players averaging double figures in scoring, including Darius Jones-Gibson, who is putting up 16.0 points a game.

Stay tuned, I will update the blog all night.

15:51 — UNT is up 7-5 at the first media timeout. Jeremy Combs has four points for UNT and Deckie Johnson hit a big 3 for the Mean Green.

11:13 — UNT is up 15-13 at the second media timeout. DeAndre Harris has scored UNT’s last four points.

7:50 — UNT and Samford are all tied up at 19-19 a little past the midway point of the first half. Jeremy Combs and DeAndre Harris both have four points for UNT. Christen Cunningham has nine points for Samford, which is headed to the line.

3:32 — UNT is down 28-25 late in the first half and just caught a break when a Samford player stepped out of bounds after picking up a steal. Jeremy Combs, Deckie Johnson and J-Mychal Reese all have five points for UNT. The Mean Green were down six a few minutes ago.

57.4 — UNT is down 34-27 late in the first half here at the Super Pit. Samford just called its 30 second TO for the first half to set up this possession.

Halftime — UNT is down 37-30 at halftime after an odd sequence to finish out the half. Samford was about to force a shot clock violation at the end of the half, but inexplicably fouled Allante Holston at the end of the clock shooting a desperation 3. Holston hit all three free throws. UNT appeared as if it would come up with a stand on the ensuing possession, but couldn’t grab a loose ball. Samford grabbed it and finished the half with a dunk.

18:41 — UNT has pulled to within 37-32 early in the second half on a Khalil Fuller layup. after not UNT has the ball and just called a timeout to avoid a five-second call being able to get the ball in.

15:44 — UNT is down 46-37 at the first media timeout of the second half. Jeremy Combs is headed to the line. Samford is going to foul Combs instead of giving him any easy looks. The sophomore did hit his last two shots from the line. Combs has eight points and is 4-for-6 from the line. He has been a little bit better from the stripe today.

11:55 — UNT has quickly turned this game around with a  13-0 run. Carrington Ward just hit a 3 to put UNT up 52-48, UNT hit 13 free throws for all of its points during a pretty long stretch in the second half before Allante Holston hit a pair of buckets.

7:51 — Samford has answered UNT’s run with a 6-0 surge and is within 57-56 as we head down the stretch. The Bulldogs have scored their last eight points from the free throw line. Jeremy Combs has 14 points for UNT.

3:17 — UNT is down 65-64 as we head down the stretch. Samford is headed to the line and is in the double bonus. Jeremy Combs has 17 points for UNT. The Mean Green were down 65-62 before J-Mychal Reese hit a nifty reverse layup.

55.3 — UNT is down 70-67 in the final minute. Wyatt Walker just hit a putback for Samford to put the Bulldogs up three. UNT has the ball coming out of this timeout.

24.1 — DeAndre Harris missed a 3. UNT is still down 70-67. Samford has the ball with 15 on the shot clock.

11.2 — UNT is down 71-69 after Deckie Johnson hit a pair of free throws. Johnson managed to lure a Samford player into jumping into him. UNT will have to foul here if it can’t come up with a steal.

Final — UNT falls 74-72. I will be back later with the rewind.

Tuesday afternoon tidbits on the football, basketball fronts

It’s Tuesday afternoon and time for a few quick tidbits on what is going on in the world of UNT athletics.

First off, the UNT strength staff sent out a nice shot of UNT’s senior class after its last lifting session of their careers. UNT will face UTEP in its final game of the season on Saturday.

UNT has a host of seniors who have contributed a lot to the university and the program over the years.

It’s nice to see them recognized.

I will have a story in tomorrow’s paper on UNT’s struggles offensively late in the season that addresses what could be a root cause we haven’t talked a lot about.

And in other news, the UNT men’s basketball team is in action again tonight in its home tournament. The Mean Green blew a nine-point lead late last night in a loss to Idaho and will face a Samford team coming off a big win over Troy.

Samford is 3-1 with its lone loss coming against Louisville.

I will be blogging live. Check back in before the 7:30 p.m. tipoff.