The Sunday leftovers

North Texas players celebrate after Kenny Buyers intercepted a pass during the Mean Green's win over Florida International on Saturday at Apogee Stadium. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

The end of the weekend is upon us, and that can only mean one thing — It’s time for the Sunday leftovers, where we pick through what took place over the last couple of days and hopefully put it all in perspective.

The big news of the weekend was that UNT finished the home slate in football in style. The Mean Green snuck past Florida International 17-14, sending defensive coordinator John Skladany and 17 seniors out on a positive note.

UNT didn’t play its best game of the season, but it did enough to pull through. That was all that really mattered.

Reggie Pegram finished with 114 rushing yards in his final home game and Derek Akunne posted his 300th career tackle. 

UNT will head to San Antonio this week for its season-ending game against UTSA and can finish 5-7 with a win,

If you look back on the blog from earlier today, you will find the late-night hoops rewind where we went over UNT’s loss to Iona tonight. The UNT women fell to 0-4 on the year earlier in the day with a 59-57 loss to Eastern Illinois.

And finally, the UNT volleyball team was swept by Western Kentucky in the semifinals of the Conference USA tournament. UNT had a pretty successful season and finished 22-10.

Late-night hoops rewind: Iona 78, UNT 58

Final: Iona 78, UNT 58

Where UNT stands: UNT is 3-1 after its first loss of the season and has one game left in five-game home stand to open the year.

Now what?: UNT will face Mississippi Valley State on Wednesday.


Star of the night: Jordan Williams finished with a team-high 11 points and hit one 3. Williams also had two rebounds, two blocks and an assist. The senior was at his best in the opening moments of the game, when UNT ran out to an early lead.. Williams scored four of his points in the early going and hit a jumper to give UNT a 12-5 lead. The Mean Green couldn’t keep their early run going, but it made things interesting.

Say what?

“This is a measuring stick. This was a great opportunity on our home court that we let slip away. We knew this would be a tough game. I’m disappointed we didn’t measure up to it. I thought we were poised and ready to play.”

– UNT coach Tony Benford on the Mean Green’s game against Iona

Our take: UNT ran into a buzz saw in the second  half of tonight’s game against Iona in guard A.J. English, who lit the Mean Green up for 37 points. English is one of the better guards in the country and was on top of his game against UNT, going 11-for-21 from the floor and hitting five 3s.

English’s 37 points were the most scored against the Mean Green since Demetrius Evans scored 40 against for University of the Southwest in a 91-62 loss to UNT on Dec. 2, 2009.

The chances of UNT knocking off Iona seemed pretty remote. One has to give the Mean Green credit for making a game of it early. Iona had superior talent. That eventually made the difference.

Benford talked about how UNT missed out on a chance for a signature win. One does have to give the Mean Green credit for a 3-0 start. At this point in the season, a win over Delaware State does look pretty good on paper.

UNT has Mississippi Valley State up next before it faces a brutal stretch on the road at Arkansas, Oklahoma State and Stephen F. Austin.

Bouncing back and getting to 4-1 heading into that trip would be a big boost.

UNT doubleheader running blog

UNT hasn’t played many doubleheaders since joining Conference USA. Today marks one of those rare occasions.

The UNT women will face Eastern Illinois in the “somebody has to win game” of the day before we get a better idea if the UNT men are the real deal when they face a really good Iona team.

The UNT women have really struggled and are 0-3. What’s worse is that all three of those games have come at home.

UNT’s big problem? Putting the ball in the hole. The Mean Green are shooting 31.5 percent from the field and 46.7 percent from the line. Briesha Wynn is averaging 12.0 points a game to lead UNT.

EIU is also 0-3 on the year.

It looks like BreAnna Dawkins took a shot to the face. She is wearing a mask today.

As far as the UNT men’s game goes. UNT has run out to a 3-0 start and picked up a win over Delaware State its last time out.

Iona is the real deal and beat Wake Forest on Friday. David Laury, a 6-9 forward, was the preseason Metro Atlantic Player of the Year and is averaging 16.3 points and 6.0 rebounds a game. UNT could have trouble matching up with him and the rest of a pretty big Iona lineup that also includes 6-7 guard Isaiah Williams.

Stay tuned. I will update the blog all day.

15:54 — UNT is up 7-6 at the first media timeout of the women’s game. UNT was up 7-2, but EIU has scored the last couple of baskets. BreAnna Dawkins his an early 3 for UNT.

 11:54 — UNT is up 9-8 and is headed to the free-throw line. Dum, dum, dummmmm. This is usually bad news for UNT, which is shooting 46.7 percent. No, really. That’s true. EIU is on a 6-2 run.
8:21 — UNT is on an 8-0 run and is up 17-10 just past the halfway mark of the first half. BreAnna Dawkins has five points for UNT. The Mean Green are shooting the ball a whole lot better the last few minutes.
4:27 — UNT is up 22-12 late in the first half after going on an 11-0 run. BreAnna Dawkins has eight points for UNT. EIU is shooting just 33 percent from the floor.
15:23 — UNT is up 31-24 early in the second half here at the Super Pit. Briesha Wynn has 12 points for the Mean Green. EIU is on a 6-2 run.
14:21 — UNT is up 34-26 early in the second half. Briesha Wynn has 12 points for the Mean Green. Kiara Davis hit a big 3 for UNT after EIU pulled to within 31-24.
11:23 — UNT is up 39-31 as we approach the midway point of the second half. Eboniey Jeter hit a shot in the lane to get UNT back on track after EIU had pulled to within six.
5:53 — UNT is up 47-43 in a game that is getting tight down the stretch. EIU is headed to the line for a pair of free throws. Briesha Wynn has 15 points and BreAnna Dawkins 10 for UNT. EIU is on a 7-3 run.
3:54 — UNT is up 48-47 late in the second half after blowing a big lead. EIU is headed to the line for a couple of free throws. UNT has lucked out a couple of times in the last two minutes when EIU missed chippies right at the rim. Briesha Wynn has 16 points for UNT, which is 2-for-8 from the line.
3:40 — UNT is still up one at 50-49 after Candice Adams hit a pull-up jumper in the lane. UNT was down one. TO UNT.
3:04 — EIU missed a shot, but grabbed the rebound and ended up calling a timeout.
1:26 — EIU scored, picked up a steal and scored again on a Grace Lennox driving layup. 53-50 EIU.
25.2 — We are all tied up at 53-53 after Briesha Wynn hit a huge 3 for UNT. The Mean Green have the ball coming out of a timeout with 16 seconds on the shot clock.
7.7 — Briesha Wynn drove the lane, but couldn’t get a good shot off. EIU has called a timeout with 7.7 seconds left and will have a shot at the win.
1.7 — EIU’s Sabina Oroszova missed a runner in the lane, but the ball went off UNT and out of bounds. EIU has the ball back with another shot at it.
Overtime — We are headed to overtime here at the Super Pit after neither team could close the game out in the closing seconds. Briesha Wynn had a look at a halfcourt heave, but missed it.
1:07 — UNT may be toast here. The Mean Green are down 56-53 and EIU has the ball coming out of a timeout. UNT has a turnover and missed a pair of free throws. UNT is 2-for-10 from the line.
33.8 — UNT finally scored here in overtime  on a BreAnna Dawkins layup, but UNT is down 58-53 in the closing seconds. EIU has the ball.
Final — UNT falls 59-57. I will be back with the men’s game.
16:19 men’s game — UNT is off to a good start and has a 7-3 lead. Iona just called a timeout.
15:16 — UNT  has an early 10-5 lead. UNT has eight points off turnovers in the early going. Maurice Aniefiok has a 3 for UNT. Iona is headed to the line to try to complete a three-point play.
11:30 — Iona has started to get on track and shake off a some travel rust. UNT is up 12-10 with Iona headed to the line to try to complete a three-point play.
7:42 — UNT and Iona are all tied up at 18-18 just past the midway point of the first half. Armani Flannigan has five points for UNT. Maurice Aniefiok was just T-ed up.
3:48 — UNT has a 23-21 lead late in the first half. Jordan Williams just hit a big 3 for the Mean Green, who will have the ball coming out of the final media timeout of the half. Williams has seven points for UNT.
1:46 — UNT fell behind by one, but has caught fire and is now up 30-25 late in the first half.
54.5 — Iona is on a 9-0 run and has a 32-30 lead late in the first half. UNT has turned the ball over a couple of times in the last minute.
Halftime — We are all tied up at 32-32 at halftime. Iona guard A.J. English had a 3 go halfway down and come back out in the closing seconds. Jordan Williams has nine points to lead UNT. The Mean Green shot 52 percent from the field in the first half.
17:35 — UNT is down 38-32 after Iona hit a couple of 3s to open the second half. The Gaels have turned up the defensive pressure in the second half. UNT is struggling to get good looks on the offensive end. UNT just turned it over. Iona will have the ball coming out of this timeout.
15:51 — UNT is down 42-32 at the first media timeout of the second half. David Laury, Iona’s big 6-8 forward is starting to give UNT problems down low.  UNT hasn’t scored in the second half.
13:28 — UNT is down 51-36 and just called a timeout. UNT is really struggling to get anything going offensively.
7:01 — UNT is down 61-49 as we head down the stretch in the second half here at the Super Pit. UNT is shooting 50 percent from the field, but has taken 11 fewer shots than Iona. Greg White-Pittman is headed to the line to try to complete a three-point play.
1:41 — UNT is down 72-58 as we head down the stretch here at the Super Pit. Iona just took a timeout
Final — UNT falls 78-58. I will be back.

Chalk Talk: UNT vs. Iona

North Texas guard Maurice Aniefiok (1) looks to pass as Delaware State forward Aric Dickerson (22) and guard Charles Burley defend Wednesday at the Super Pit. UNT will look to extend its season-opening winning streak to four games today in a game against Iona.

Iona at UNT

When: 5 p.m. today

Where: Super Pit

Radio: KNTU-FM 88.1

Records: UNT 3-0; Iona 2-1

Projected UNT starting lineup:

PG: Greg White-Pittman, 6-2 Fr. — 5.7 points a game, three total assists

SG: Jordan Williams, 6-6 Sr. — 16.7 points, 5.7 rebounds a game, six total steals, 88.9 free throw percentage

SF: Maurice Aniefiok, 6-5 Jr. — 8.0 points. 2.0 rebounds a game, five total steals

F: Jeremy Combs, 6-7 Fr. — 8.0 points, 5.7 rebounds a game , 57.1 field goal percentage

F: Colin Voss, 6-7, Sr. — 5.7 points, 6.7 rebounds a game

Scouting Iona:

The Gaels are a highly regarded team coming off a huge 85-81 in over Wake Forest on Friday. A.J. English is averaging 21.0 points a game and is one of four Iona players averaging double figures. David Laury, a 6-foot-8 forward is averaging 16.3 points and 6.0 rebounds a game. Iona has four players who are listed at 6-9 or taller, the kind of size that could give UNT problems.

Who’s hot:

Armani Flannigan has posted career-high point totals in each of UNT’s last two games. The senior forward scored 10 points and hit all four of his free throws in a win over Delaware State on Wednesday after scoring nine points in a win over Nicholls State in UNT’s second game of the season. The 6-8 forward is one of the few players UNT has who can match up with Iona’s forwards and will have to give UNT something on both ends of the court for the Mean Green to have a chance to win. Flannigan has dramatically improved from the line this season.

What you need to know:

UNT has a little confidence brewing early in the season after three straight wins. If UNT can pull this one off, it might be reason enough to get legitimately excited about this team’s prospects.

Iona is a really good team. It helps that UNT will catch the Gaels off a short turnaround following a win over Wake Forest on Friday.

“Iona is a really good team that was picked to win their league,” UNT coach Tony Benford said. “They have an NBA player in the big kid [Laury]. He is really talented, is 6-9 and 240. He can play inside and outside. They have a really talented wing in Alex English, whose dad played in the NBA. They have a couple of other good players and are a veteran ball club. They are talented.”

The big question is if UNT will be able to hold up inside against a really good Iona frontline and match up with the Gaels overall talent. Iona lost by one at Louisiana Tech last season in the NIT. The Bulldogs beat UNT by 15.

Five thoughts following UNT’s win over FIU

North Texas coach Dan McCarney cheers on his players during the Mean Green's 17-14 win over Florida International on Saturday at Apogee Stadium.

Here are five late-night thoughts on UNT’s 17-14 win over Florida International in the Mean Green’s home finale at Apogee Stadium that moved UNT to 4-7 on the year and 2-5 in C-USA play:

1. John Skladany is good at coaching football

UNT unofficially bid farewell to defensive coordinator John Skladany tonight. The Mean Green have one more game at UTSA before Skladany rides off into the sunset, or in this case moves to Florida. Skladany’s defense pitched a shutout in his final home game. FIU’s points came on a punt return and an interception return. Skaldany is just a good football coach. He’s great with the Xs and Os and his players really go hard for him. He just didn’t have the horses this year that he did last season, which is part of the reason why UNT won’t be headed to a bowl in a couple of weeks.

2. UNT’s lack of playmakers on offense is glaring

Andrew McNulty threw two interceptions and finished 105 passing yards in the Mean Green’s win over FIU. One of those late interceptions could have cost UNT the game. It set the Golden Panthers up at the Mean Green’s 43 in the fourth quarter with UNT up 17-14. James Jones intercepted a pass in the end zone and UNT held on, but the Mean Green managed just 266 yards. Reggie Pegram had a good game with 114 yards, but UNT struggled overall. Defenses don’t respect UNT’s passing game. The Mean Green have several problems, and they go beyond Xs and Os.

3. UNT’s home edge is real, but the Mean Green won’t be home much next year

UNT improved to 16-7 under Dan McCarney at Apogee Stadium the last four years and posted its fourth straight winning season at home, where UNT went 4-2 this year. UNT is just a different team at home than it is on the road. And that brings us to a McCarney comment after the game. He mentioned that, as he understands it, UNT will only have five home games next year. That has been hashed and rehashed, but I thought it was interesting that it came up tonight.

4. UNT has some seniors that won’t be easy to replace

If this season has taught us anything, it’s that it is not safe to assume that UNT will just roll out a bunch of new players and not miss impact players at key spots. There are some key players on this team that won’t be easy to replace. Derek Akunne has 301 tackles his career and 101 this year. He’s one. James Jones and Lairamie Lee in the secondary and four offensive linemen won’t be easy to replace, either. Those guys all played key roles in today’s win.

5. UNT has some serious heart as a team

There wasn’t a good spot in any of the stories I wrote for the exact quote, but McCarney talked about the heart UNT showed as a team while bouncing back from a tough loss to UTEP last week. The Mean Green could have folded up shop after seeing its bowl hopes go down the tubes, but came back and posted a pretty good win.

UNT-FIU preview/running blog

UNT will close out its home schedule today with a game against Florida International.

The Mean Green saw their bowl hopes end last week in a loss at UTEP and are looking to go out on a positive note in their final home game. UNT has fared well in situations like this in under head coach Dan McCarney, who began the tradition of the Senior Bowl shortly after taking over at UNT.

UNT’s seniors gather around “Spiriki” the eagle statue in the entrance to the field from the Mean Green’s locker room. If UNT wins its final home game, that photo is displayed all year in the football offices. It’s tossed into the trash if UNT loses.

Their are 17 seniors in that photo, including several key players. Linebacker Derek Akunne needs eight tackles to become just the 10th player in program history to finish with 300 career stops. Cornerback James Jones and four senior offensive linemen, particularly Cyril Lemon and Mason Y’Barbo, have been key players for UNT for years.

UNT is 2-1 in Senior Bowls with its lone loss coming last year against UTSA. UNT was pretty much of assured of going to a bowl when that game was played, which reduced its importance to some degree.

Another big source of motivation today is that UNT has finished with a winning record in every season since Apogee Stadium opened in 2011. UNT finished 5-1 at home last year.

UNT is 3-2 at home this year and has to win today to finish above .500 again.

McCarney has put a huge emphasis on creating a home field advantage at Apogee. He has said numerous times over the last few months that he wouldn’t want to be part of a senior class is remembered as the first to not post a winning home record.

And speaking of a home field advantage, UNT won’t have much of one today in terms of fans. There is no one on the hill where students typically hang out and the parking lot is pretty empty. The weather is terrible now, and it’s expected to get worse.

This game could end up looking like the Mean Green’s 2011 finale against Middle Tennessee when no one was in the stands.

Stay tuned. I will update the blog all day.

2:06 — The one aspect of the weather today that really doesn’t help matters for UNT is that it is a huge weekend for visits in terms of high school prospects. If there is one thing that this season has shown us, it’s that UNT needs to upgrade its talent. Some of those players UNT really needs could be among those walking into the stands on a cold, wet, miserable day when there is absolutely no one here.

2:12 — I mentioned this in the paper today, but one of the key matchups to watch today is UNT’s linebackers and safeties against Jonnu Smith. The FIU tight end is one of the best receivers at his position in C-USA and, arguably, the country. Smith has 57 catches on the season and had three that went for touchdowns last week in a win over Middle Tennessee.

2:20 — Wondering how empty Apogee is …

UNT is introducing its seniors. Cyril Lemon and Mason Y’Barbo are last up. Seems appropriate. Those two guys have been huge for UNT throughout their careers.

Kickoff — Scott Davis is the honorary captain for today’s game. UNT has won the toss and will take the ball to start the game.

14:55 — UNT will have the ball at its 21 to start the game.

14:20 — Reggie Pegram broke free for a 54-yard touchdown run on the second play of the game. There’s a senior moment for you. UNT is up 7-0.

14:07 — Lairamie Lee intercepted a ball on the sideline here in the early going. Officials on the field ruled he was juggling it on the way out of bounds. The play stands as called. It’s third-and-10.

13:50 — In a side note, defensive end Chad Polk is sick and will not play today.

10:36 — UNT has held on FIU’s first possession and will have the ball back its its 20 after the Golden Panthers couldn’t down a pass that hit deep in the Mean Green’s end of the field and bounced into the end zone.

5:21 — UNT has driven down the field and pushed its lead to 14-0 on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Andrew McNunty to tight end Marcus Smith. FIU didn’t provide a whole lot of resistance.

3:09 — UNT has held again. FIU has punted it away. UNT will have the ball back at its 33-yard line.

1:22 — Well, this just got a whole lot more interesting. Richard Leonard took a rugby style punt, broke a couple of tackles and went 74 yards for a touchdown. UNT is up 14-7, but the Mean Green lost a bit of their momentum there.

1:14 — UNT will have the ball back at its 38-yard line.

Start of the second quarter — UNT will punt the ball to open the second quarter. UNT went three-and-out on its last possession.

12:00 — UNT caught a huge break on FIU’s last possession. A bad snap went over Alex McGough’s head for a loss to 21 yards. UNT will have the ball back at its 44-yard line.

9:36 — UNT didn’t get anything going on its last possession. FIU will have the ball back at its 13-yard line. UNT has played really well defensively so far today. A stand here could help UNT get the ball back with good field position.

6:17 — FIU has punted the ball away. UNT will have the ball back at its 41-yard line. UNT gave up a first down on that possession, but stiffened and forced a punt.

2:17 — UNT kicker Trevor Moore left a 49-yard field goal short. FIU will have the ball back.

1:28 — Welp, that changed the game. UNT cornerback Kenny Buyers intercepted an FIU pass, giving UNT great field possession. Andrew McNulty threw an interception on the ensuing possession that FIU returned for a touchdown. We are all tied up at 14-14.

Halftime — UNT dominated the first half from a statistical sense, but we are all tied up at 14-14 at the break. FIU returned a punt for a touchdown and brought an interception back for another score. UNT also had a field goal bounce off the crossbar. UNT was up 14-0, but it’s pretty clear that FIU has momentum on its side heading into the second half.

Start of the second half — We are getting ready to start the second half. FIU will have the ball to open the half. The Golden Panthers will have the ball at the 15.

12:38 — UNT’s defense held up on FIU’s first possession of the second half. The Mean Green will have the ball back at its 37-yard line.

10:33 — UNT couldn’t get anything going on its last possession, but was able to pin FIU deep in its own end of the field. The Golden Panthers will have the ball back their 9-yard line.

7:13 — UNT will have the ball back at its 33-yard line to start its next possession. The Mean Green’s defense made a solid stand on FIU’s last possession. UNT has struggled since a solid early start.

4:23 — UNT just got a terrific punt from Eric Keena. It bounced inside the 10, rolled down the sideline and skipped out of bounds at the 2.

:04 — UNT is back on top. Trevor Moore connected from 36 yards out. The Mean Green are up 17-14. The rain is coming down in buckets now.

12:51 — UNT held on FIU’s last possession and will have the ball back at its 35-yard line in a driving rain. The stands have pretty much emptied out. UNT could ice this game right here with a good drive.

11:21 — Andrew McNulty has thrown his second interception of the game. FIU has the ball at the UNT 43-yard line.

11:02 — This is a big play right here. FIU has the ball at the UNT 41 and faces third-and-8.

8:33 — That might be the play of the game right there. James Jones intercepted a ball in the end zone.

4:30 — I am headed down and will be back later. UNT is up 17-14 late.

Friday night notes (UNT falls in women’s hoops, et cetera)

It’s been a tough go early this season for the UNT women’s basketball team, which got off to a great start before sputtering and eventually flaming out in a 56-46 loss to UMass.

Briesha Wynn led UNT with 11 points and Eboniey Jeter added 10. The Mean Green led by 12 early, but couldn’t keep it going.

UNT has been really, really bad at putting the ball in the hole early in the season. That’s pretty problematic no matter how many stops a team gets on the other end.

UNT shot 33 percent from the field and 52 percent from the line, which was actually better than the 44 percent is was shooting from the stripe coming into the game.

UMass is 2-2 this year, but was just 4-27 last season.

UNT will look to turn it around on Sunday against Eastern Illinois.

The UNT men will also be in action on Sunday in what looks like it will be a tough game against Iona. The Gaels beat Wake Forest tonight 85-81.

And finally, the UNT volleyball team beat Southern Miss in four games tonight to advance to the C-USA semifinals. UNT will face Western Kentucky at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.

UNT-UMass running blog

UNT will take on UMass tonight in the Hospitality Hill Challenge. I didn’t get a chance to get over here until the last minute, but here’s the quick synopsis:

UNT has lost its first two games of the season and is struggling from the line, where the Mean Green are shooting 44 percent.

The hope is that UNT can get it rolling during its home tournament. UNT will play two games at home this weekend.

Stay tuned.

15:51 — UNT is up 4-2 at the first media timeout of the first half. Briesha Wynn has all four points for UNT. Neither team is shooting the ball particularly well so far. UNT is 2-for-6 from the field.

13:02 — Things are getting chippy here at the Super Pit. BreAnna Dawkins got into the face of a UMass player after being knocked to the floor.

11:26 — UNT is up 10-4 at the second media timeout of the first half. Briesha Wynn has seven points for UNT.

8:01 — UNT is up 16-6 after Candice Adams hit a 3. UMass called a timeout to try to turn things around. Briesha Wynn has seven points to lead UNT.

3:54 — UNT was up 12 at 18-6, but UMass has cut its deficit to 20-13. The deficit was down to five a couple of minutes ago. Candice Adams has five points and has started to find it offensively.

Halftime — UNT is up 23-21 at halftime. Briesha Wynn has seven points for the Mean Green.

15:55 — UNT is up 28-27 in a tight one here at the Super Pit. Candice Adams and Briesha Wynn both have seven points for UNT.

11:47 — UNT is up 34-31 as we approach the midway point of the second half. Briesha Wynn has nine points for UNT. Candice Adams has seven.

7:46 — UNT is down 41-39 after UMass hit a 3 on its last possession. Eboniey Jeter has 10 points for UNT. Candice Adams has nine.

5:09 — UNT is down 44-39 and just took a timeout. UMass is on a 6-0 run. UMass hit a 3 to start it that looks pretty big right now.

3:58 — UNT is down 46-44 at the final media timeout. UMass is headed to the line to try to complete a three-point play. UMass picked up a rebound and a putback to go back in front.

1:03 — UNT is toast here at the Super Pit. UMass has pulled ahead 53-45 with time running out.

Final –UNT falls 56-46 here at the Super Pit.

Q&A with Pete Pelegrin on tomorrow’s UNT-FIU game

We are fortunate today to welcome Pete Pelegrin to the blog for our Friday Q&A. Pete has covered Florida International, the Mean Green’s opponent for tomorrow’s game at Apogee Stadium. He wrote for the Miami Herald for years. These days, he has an FIU blog. Here is what he had to say about tomorrow’s game:

FIU really seemed to find itself last week against Middle Tennessee. What changed?

The Panthers defense played like the defense from the first seven games of the season when FIU was ranked in the top 20 in total defense. FIU got off to a slow start last week but the defense and the special teams brought the Panthers back against Middle Tennessee. During the recent four-game losing streak FIU was -5 in turnover margin. Against the Blue Raiders, the Panthers were +4. This FIU team, more specifically the defense, feeds off turnovers.

Also, the Raiders made the mistake of kicking to Richard Leonard who had long kick and punt returns last week to set up the FIU offense with great field position. For the previous 4 to 5 weeks, opponents kicked away from Leonard.

I think FIU also learned a little bit last week on how to close out games. The Panthers could easily be thinking Boca Raton Bowl or Bahamas Bowl right now if they had closed out three games this season: 2-point loss to Bethune-Cookman, 3-point loss to UTSA and 3-point loss to Old Dominion. Last week FIU ran the ball down MT’s throat late in the fourth quarter and never gave the Raiders offense a chance to get back on the field when they were trailing by 10 points.

Jonnu Smith has developed into a weapon for FIU. Talk a little about what he brings?

Jonnu is basically a big receiver with speed playing tight end and he’s got a great football IQ. He can line up wide, in the slot, on the line and even as a fullback and catch the ball a variety of ways.

Smith already has broken some of T.Y. Hilton’s receiving records such as scoring three receiving touchdowns in a game last week against Middle Tennessee. Smith has caught a pass in every game he has played in at FIU – 23 games and counting – also an FIU record.

Smith will likely graduate from FIU as the all-time record holder in several receiving categories and that’s not too shabby from a guy whose only scholarship offer was from FIU, mainly because he weighed just 190 in high school. Now he’s 6-3, 245 pounds.

Has Ron Turner started to turn the corner with FIU?

I think he’s just about there. Probably after the next signing class you will see a more well-rounded roster. FIU still needs to build depth along both lines, add more receivers, linebackers and safeties and acquire more competition at the kicking positions. The players have bought into Turner and his staff and this team is much more developed and disciplined than they were a year ago when they were 1-11.

The Panthers are set at quarterback for the next three years with freshman Alex McGough, who has had a solid first year. The running game has plenty of talent, speed and depth with Anthon Samuel, Alex Gardner and Napoleon Maxwell. Of course, you know about Jonnu Smith.

Turner and his staff are situated in arguably the most fertile recruiting area in the nation so they have quality high school athletes all around to keep building the program.

Is FIU pointing to this game as a way to carry some serious momentum into the offseason?

I don’t know if one particular game carries momentum but it certainly can’t hurt to win in Denton to take it into the offseason. There’s a pretty good vibe on the team right now with the improvement they have made from that 1-win season a year ago. And the Panthers know they should be going to a bowl game this year if they had closed out those three games I mentioned above.

This team will be a year older and physically bigger when camp rolls around next August and I think they will have bowl game expectations next season considering how close they came this season when they were expected by most prognosticators to win only 2 or 3 games.

It also doesn’t hurt that FIU is only losing a few seniors from this team. So it will basically be the same team next season with signing day improvements. And those signees could find themselves with significant playing time early on because Turner has shown that he will play the best player regardless of class.

How do you see this game playing out?

Seeing that North Texas likes to run the ball a lot I think that plays into FIU’s defense. If the Panthers can neutralize the Mean Green’s run and put the game on Andrew McNulty’s shoulders then FIU should be victorious. The strength of the FIU defense besides its defensive line is the cornerbacks that can play one-on-one with just about any receiver. Richard Leonard is a shutdown corner that will play on Sundays after next season. Wilkenson Myrtil and Jeremiah McKinnon are just below Leonard in ability.

I think quarterback Alex McGough has to have another highly efficient game (17 of 24, 231 yds, 3 TDs) like he did against Middle Tennessee. Someone else besides Jonnu Smith has to step in the passing game. FIU’s run game has been real good of late with power runner Anthon Samuel and the fast and hard to bring down Napoleon Maxwell.

If the Mean Green kicks to Leonard watch for some game-breaking returns. I’ve mentioned to other opposing media before during these Q&As that Leonard is like a defensive T.Y. Hilton. He can score from any point on the field, like his 100-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Florida Atlantic earlier this season. He also has two pick sixes this season.

Weather is supposed to be a factor Saturday with about an 80 percent of showers at game time. If the Panthers can protect the football then I think FIU goes home happy with win number five this season. FIU 24, North Texas 14

Friday afternoon notes (sad story of UNT setter, links, et cetera)

North Texas setter Camille Cherry stands with her mother Tina Reese, who died in a car accident earlier this year. (Courtesy photo)

Every once in a while in this business you write stories about tragic events. I wrote a follow-up on UNT setter Camille Cherry today that is a heart-breaker.

If you have been following along with what is going on at UNT this fall, it’s a tale you know well. Cherry’s mother died in a freak car accident on the way to see her daughter play. Cherry’s younger brother died in a drunk driving accident just a few years ago.

Cherry talked a little about what helped her pull through. The UNT community played a big part.

UNT opens play in the Conference USA tournament tonight.

The UNT women’s basketball team opens play in the Hospitality Hill Challenge, its home tournament, tonight as well. The Mean Green will face UMass tonight and Eastern Illinois on Sunday. Florida State is also in town. The tournament schedule is at the bottom of the little advance we shoehorned into today’s paper on a night the high school football playoffs take center stage.

I also followed up on the commitment of Coppell offensive lineman Jordan Murray to UNT. He was motivated by being overlooked in high school while playing on the opposite side of of the Cowboys offensive line from Connor Williams, an offensive tackle who committed to Texas over the summer.

And finally, a couple of recruiting tidbits:

UNT wide receiver target D’erren Wilson is visiting Central Florida.

The Mean Green were also after Atascocita wide receiver Tre Hamilton. He committed to UTSA, but has backed out and committed to Memphis. Former UNT head coach Darrell Dickey is the Tigers’ offensive coordinator, while former UNT assistant Ryan Walters is Memphis’ cornerbacks coach.

The Tigers have ridden the stretch play that made Patrick Cobbs and Jamario Thomas national rushing champions all the way to a 7-3 record. Memphis is in position to win the American Athletic Conference heading into their last two games.

That is in no way an editorial comment. It’s just nice to see Dickey, a guy who did a lot for UNT succeeding at his latest stop.