UNT basketball coach search update

North Texas is in the early stages of its search for a new men's basketball coach. Jacksonville State head coach Ray Harper could be one possibility. (DRC file photo)

North Texas is in the early stages of its search for a new men’s basketball coach. Jacksonville State head coach Ray Harper could be one possibility. (DRC file photo)

North Texas has just begun its search for a new men’s basketball coach, but some names are starting to emerge.

Coaching Changes, a Twitter account that covers college basketball, posted today that Ray Harper to UNT is a done deal.

It’s far too early for anything to be a done deal, but Harper heading to UNT does made a lot of sense for a couple of reasons.

First off, Harper used to coach Oklahoma City, an NAIA school where he won two straight national titles. UNT athletic director Wren Baker was the head men’s basketball coach and athletic director at Rogers State in Claremore, Oklahoma.

I have been told Baker and Harper know each other and are friendly.

Harper has been successful everywhere he has coached. He also won two Division II national titles at Kentucky Wesleyan. He later landed at Western Kentucky and led the Hilltoppers to two NCAA tournaments.

Harper resigned at WKU and landed at Jacksonville State, which he has in the NCAA tournament this year in his first season.

Coming to UNT would give Harper the opportunity to move up and to exact a little revenge on WKU. Don’t discount that.

With Jacksonville State in the NCAA tournament, nothing is going to play out quickly, and I wouldn’t be sold on the fact that Harper is the only coach UNT will consider.

Multiple sources within the college basketball community said not to dismiss the idea that UNT will try to make a run at a couple of other established coaches — Scott Cross at UTA and Grant McCasland at Arkansas State.

Cross has had a ton of success at UTA, which just won the outright Sun Belt Conference title. Cross will be highly marketable this offseason and has probably done about all he can do at UTA.

If a national name program doesn’t pick Cross up, UNT could become attractive. It’s another step up the ladder and offers a chance to build his resume.

McCasland is also a call UNT seemingly would have to make. Arkansas State has thrived under the former Baylor assistant. McCasland is from Irving.

The question with McCasland is the same as it is with Cross. Does he get snapped up by a school higher up on the national landscape? If he doesn’t have that opportunity this year, does he hold out for another season or listen to UNT? Is UNT even a big enough jump for McCasland to consider?

What is apparent at this point is that UNT is serious about Baker’s mandate of hiring a current Division I head coach. Multiple college coaches have said that UNT has put the word out that it is after a proven head coach this time.

Will it be Harper?

That looks like a possibility, but it appears as if UNT has a some calls to make and some options to consider. Harper also has an NCAA tournament to coach in.

UNT Wednesday practice notes

North Texas' offensive linemen go through drills on Wednesday morning at the Darrell R. Dickey Football Practice Facility.

North Texas’ offensive linemen go through drills on Wednesday morning at the Darrell R. Dickey Football Practice Facility.

North Texas went through one of its more spirited practices thus far this spring this morning at the Darrell R. Dickey Football Practice Facility.

Several fights broke out near the end of drills.

That was perfectly fine with UNT coach Seth Littrell and his assistants, who are emphasizing being more physical.

“Whatever it is — blocking and tackling — we are trying guys to learn how to run through people on contact,” Littrell said. “Today was a lot more physical and competitive. We have to keep building on that and keep fighting each other.”

UNT defensive coordinator Troy Reffett also spoke about the importance of becoming a more physical team last week. Be on the lookout for a story on the adjustments UNT is making to its defense now that Reffett is in charge tomorrow.

And in other news and observations …

North Texas' defensive linemen go through drills on Wednesday .

North Texas’ defensive linemen go through drills on Wednesday.

– Wide receiver O’Keeron Rutherford is out at least through spring break and will be questionable for the rest of spring practice with a shoulder injury. Rutherford fell on left shoulder in team drills on Monday and was in a sling in practice today. That’s a key blow for Rutherford, who could use the practice time, and for the Mean Green in general.

– There were a host of visitors at practice today who are of interest, including several from Wylie. Quarterback Stacy Connor was among them. Connor has committed to Texas State, but has an offer from UNT.

Former UNT assistant coach Conroy Hines is now an assistant at Denton Ryan. Hines, Ryan head coach Dave Henigan and UNT Hall of Famer Patrick Cobbs were on hand. Cobbs is now an assistant at Ryan. There were numerous other high school coaches at practice as well. Former UNT offensive lineman Sam Rice came by.

– Former UNT offensive line coach Brad Davis also came by. Davis just left UNT after getting the chance to make the jump up to Florida.

– As far as what went on in practice, UNT’s wide receivers had a good day. Littrell mentioned that Deion Hair-Griffin is playing well. The redshirt freshman made a one-handed grab in the end zone and made another impressive catch in team drills. He will help UNT in the slot.

Turner Smiley caught a fade in the end zone and a diving catch over the middle. He continues to play well.

Jason Pirtle isn’t the most physically gifted player UNT has, but he continues to make plays, mostly while working with the Mean Green’s backups.

Michael Lawrence also had a nice day.

– Nick Smith continues to play well at running back broke a couple of long runs. He also looked good in inside drills.,

– Sid Moore is working with UNT’s second team at defensive end and posted a tackle for loss.

– Mason Fine had a good day throwing the ball. He hit Braydon Watson for a long touchdown pass and later connected for a short touchdown to tight end Caleb Chumley.

Tight end Kelvin Smith made a nice catch over the middle.

– UNT had a heck of a time fielding punts today. Rico Bussey Jr. and Hair-Griffin both muffed one.

 

Chalk talk: UNT vs. UAB (C-USA tourney)

North Texas coach Jalie Mitchell and the Mean Green will take on UAB in the Conference USA tournament at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday in Birmingham, Alabama. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Jeff Woo)

North Texas coach Jalie Mitchell and the Mean Green will take on UAB in the Conference USA tournament at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday in Birmingham, Alabama. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Jeff Woo)

No. 8 North Texas vs. No. 9 UAB

Conference USA tournament

When: 12:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Bartow Arena, Birmingham, Alabama

Radio: KNTU-FM 88.1

Streaming: campusinsiders.com

Records: UNT 11-18, UAB 15-14

Last game: Marshall 60, UNT 57; UAB 78, Florida Atlantic 75

Projected UNT starting lineup:

PG: Kelsey Criner, 5-7, Sr. — Criner has come through in several key situations throughout her career and could be an important player for UNT in the postseason. She scored five points and handed out four assists in UNT’s loss to Marshall.  She is averaging 8.6 points per game and has 91 assists on the season.

G: Tyara Warren, 5-9, So. — Warren is coming off one of her better games of the season. The sophomore scored 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting in UNT’s loss to Marshall. She is averaging 7.4 points and 3.0 rebounds per game.

G: Candice Adams, 5-8, Sr. — Adams is coming off a rare off shooting night in UNT’s loss to Marshall. The senior scored just three points on 1-of-5 shooting, all from 3-point range. Adams is averaging 8.3 points per game and has hit 57 shots from beyond the arc this season.

G: Terriell Bradley, 5-10, So. — Bradley scored 14 points, but turned the ball over six times in UNT’s loss to Marshall. The sophomore has been UNT’s most consistent offensive player. She is averaging 13.0 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.

F: Terra Ellison, 5-11, Sr. — Ellison scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds in UNT’s loss to Marshall to cap the regular season. The senior is averaging 10.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Ellison is shooting 48.1 percent from the field.

Scouting UAB: The Blazers enter the C-USA tournament on a roll after sweeping Florida Atlantic and Florida International on a road trip to end the regular season. The Blazers rank second among teams in C-USA in 3-point field goal percentage at 37.8 percent and feature the league’s Freshman of the Year in Rachael Childress. The 5-10 guard is averaging 12.6 points per game and is one of C-USA’s best 3-point shooters. She ranks second in the league with an average of 3.1 makes per game, while her 40.4 shooting percentage from deep ranks third.

What you need to know: UNT stumbled to the finish of the regular season while losing its last four games.  The Mean Green’s schedule had a lot to do with that. UNT faced Western Kentucky, Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech late in the year, but lost a game it should have won at home to cap the regular season against Marshall.

The question now is if the Mean Green can rebound.

The key will be chasing the Blazers off the 3-point arc. UAB has two of the top four 3-point shooters in C-USA when it comes to percentage in Childress and Deanna Kuzmanic, who is shooting 37.5 percent.

UNT has gone to a smaller quicker lineup late in the season. That could help the Mean Green run UAB off the 3-point arc.

A win today would be huge for UNT, which would be able to point to winning a C-USA tournament game for a second straight season and improving its conference regular season win total from five to eight as signs of progress.

Unfortunately for both teams, the winner will face Western Kentucky in the second round.

Why Wren Baker decided to wait to fire Tony Benford

Baker

Baker

North Texas fired men’s basketball coach Tony Benford at the end of his fifth season on Sunday night.

The Mean Green finished last in Conference USA this season at 2-16 and never finished over .500 overall in five seasons under Benford.

One question several UNT fans posed is why Baker waited until the end of the season to fire Benford instead of making the change in the middle of the year.

Baker addressed that question in an interview this week and cited three key factors — taking time to conduct a complete evaluation of the program, putting the team in the best position to win this season and build a winner going forward after changing coaches.

“For me it’s important to look at the body of work,” Baker said. “I understand coach has been here five years, but I have only been here since August. I had never met him before July. It takes a while to get to know a staff and measure all the metrics, not just wins and losses. How are the players doing academically and socially? You also have to evaluate the program’s infrastructure. Was it just the coach? Did you provide him the tools to win? You are evaluating all that. I understand that there is one metric that stands above others with fans. I don’t get to be emotional with every win and loss. I have to be practical and strategic. You have to make sure that you are treating the issue and not just the symptom.”

Baker said he he has been a part of about parting ways with about 12 coaches during his career. He has also studied how other programs have handled coaching changes.

That experience helped guide him during the process of electing to fire Benford.

“Generally speaking, mid-season coaching changes – other than making some fans happy – do more harm than good,” Baker said. “Less than five percent of coaching changes are made mid-season. It’s more destructive the constructive. It rarely greatly changes the trajectory of a season.”

Baker’s concern as he handled the process was putting UNT in the best position to turn the program around under a new coach. Baker believed the best course of action was to keep Benford and his staff in place through the end of the season.

“If you talk to coaches who have taken over after mid-season coaching changes, it’s tougher,” Baker said. “Kids don’t respond to interim coaches like they would head coaches. Generally speaking that is the players’ worst academic semester. They are less focused in the weight room and in life. There are going to be more issues with behavior. For all of those reasons, I felt it wasn’t the right thing to do.”

Baker was fully aware that a few UNT fans and boosters wanted to see him make a mid-season coaching change. He stuck to his timeline and his plan to completely evaluate the program anyway.

“This is a job where you are trying to please a lot of people, but I wasn’t raised to try to try to please people,” Baker said. “I felt like the right thing for our kids and program going forward was to do what I said I would do and that was to evaluate at the end of the year.

“People can disagree with that and I can respect a difference of opinion,” Baker said. “I am friends with people who have different opinions on politics, religion and what is the best restaurant in town. I felt like it was the right thing to do and at no point did I feel like the safety of our student athletes was in jeopardy.”

MGB video: Wren Baker talks about UNT’s search for a new men’s basketball coach

North Texas athletic director Wren Baker sat down with the Denton Record-Chronicle this afternoon to discuss the school’s search for a new men’s basketball coach. The school fired Tony Benford after five seasons on Sunday night.

There will be a story in tomorrow’s paper that goes into detail on what Baker had to say and where the Mean Green’s search stands.

Here are the quick highlights:

– Baker believes UNT has what it takes to convince a current Division I head coach to make the jump to UNT.

– UNT has plans to renovate the locker room for the men’s basketball program. The upgrade is one UNT officials believe will help attract a quality head coach.

– UNT will use a search firm. The school used Eastman & Beaudine for when it hired Baker and is likely to use that firm again.

– Baker credited Benford with ensuring the program is in a good position off the court. UNT’s Academic Progress Rate report score is solid and Baker has been pleased with the way players have conducted themselves on and off the floor.

– The number of people involved in the search will be small and will include Baker; Jared Mosley, the second in command in the UNT athletic department; Neal Smatresk, UNT’s president; and Brint Ryan, the chairman of the UNT board of regents.

Check back for more later, and be sure to catch the video at the top of this post.

Monday practice notes

North Texas wide receivers run through drills on Monday at the Darrell R. Dickey Football Practice Facility.

North Texas wide receivers run through drills on Monday at the Darrell R. Dickey Football Practice Facility.

North Texas opened the second week of spring practice this morning at the Darrell R. Dickey Football Practice Facility.

I had  a story ready to run in today’s paper about where UNT’s defense stands now that Troy Reffett has taken over full time after sharing the responsibilities of coordinating the Mean Green’s defense with Mike Ekeler.

Ekeler left UNT after last season and landed at North Carolina..

That plan went up in smoke when UNT fired men’s basketball coach Tony Benford on Sunday night.

My story on Reffett’s take will now run later in the week, but he did make one interesting point I wanted to get to today.

Reffett’s biggest concern is UNT’s depth at a few spots, particularly at linebacker.

“Brandon Garner got some good playing time and E.J. [Ejiya] got some reps along with Josh [Wheeler],” Reffett said. “There is some experience with the ones [first team], but after that I don’t know if we have anyone who has played a snap. That is the concern.”

UNT lost starters Fred Scott and Cortney Finney to graduation.

Even the suspects list is a little short. Oklahoma Baptist transfer Zack Bishop is one player who is seeing time.

How that second-team  linebacker unit develops will be something to watch over the next few weeks.

North Texas offensive lineman Wylie Reinhardt punches away a medicine ball thrown by Jerod Fritsch on Monday at the Darrell R. Dickey Football Practice Facility.

North Texas offensive lineman Wylie Reinhardt punches away a medicine ball thrown by Jerod Fritsch on Monday at the Darrell R. Dickey Football Practice Facility.

And in other notes and observations …

– Jalen Guyton continues to improve and is about as physically imposing as any wide receiver UNT has had in a long time. He’s every bit of his listed size of 6-1, 202. And he can run. He made a nice catch over the middle today and later caught a touchdown pass from Mason Fine. He made a great play on the ball, regained his balance and got into the end zone. Guyton should make an impact in the fall.

– Defensive linemen Bryce English and T.J. Tauaalo both made impressive plays to get into the backfield and post tackles for loss in team drills.

– Running back Christian Hosley continues to see time with UNT’s first-team offense. He made a nice catch out of the backfield and scored on a 5-yard run.

– Tyler Wilson caught a long touchdown pass from Quinn Shanbour.

– Jameel Moore broke up a pass down the sideline in a one-on-one situation. Moore appears to be coming along well and is taking advantage of extended playing time with Eric Jenkins down due to injury.

– Khairi Muhammad is still working with UNT’s first-team defense and appears to be a lock to partner with Kishawn McClain at safety.

– Kelvin Smith made a great catch over the middle on a pass from Devlin Isadore.

– Turner Smiley caught a touchdown pass from Isadore and later caught a second on a pass from freshman Cade Pearson.

– Jason Pirtle  caught a ball over the middle from Mason Fine, his old high school teammmate.

– Caleb Chumley’s transition to playing tight end is still a work in progress. He has showed potential at times, but also dropped a ball over the middle.

 

Breaking — Tony Benford will not return as UNT’s men’s basketball coach

North Texas coach Tony Benford wipes his face during a loss to Rice at the Super Pit earlier this season. UNT announced Sunday night that Benford is out as the Mean Green's coach after five seasons. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Jeff Woo)

North Texas coach Tony Benford wipes his face during a loss to Rice at the Super Pit earlier this season. UNT announced Sunday night that Benford is out as the Mean Green’s coach after five seasons. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Jeff Woo)

Tony Benford was fired Sunday night, ending his disappointing five-year run as North Texas’ head coach.

UNT athletic director Wren Baker made the move official just hours after the Mean Green’s season came to an end in a 106-104 loss at Marshall. UNT blew a five-point lead in the final 86 seconds of its loss to the Thundering Herd. The Mean Green finished 8-22 overall and last in Conference USA at 2-16.

UNT failed to qualify for the C-USA tournament this week that will include all but two of the league’s 14 teams. Benford finished 62-95 at UNT while posting three seasons with at least 20 losses.

Freshman guard A.J. Lawson is one of North Texas top players who has eligibility remaining and could return to play for UNT's next coach. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Jeff Woo)

Freshman guard A.J. Lawson is one of North Texas top players who has eligibility remaining and could return to play for UNT’s next coach. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Jeff Woo)

“After spending this season evaluating our men’s basketball program, we have determined that a change in leadership is necessary,” Baker said in a prepared statement. “Tony and his staff have worked tirelessly for five seasons to help our student-athletes grow academically, socially and competitively. I am appreciative of those efforts. However, I believe we can compete for championships and, unfortunately, we have fallen short of those expectations.”

UNT will immediately begin a national search for Benford’s replacement.

“We will be diligent in our process and will take the time required to find the right coach to lead this program and bring championships to UNT,” Baker said.

Benford, 52, is in the final year of his original contract that pays him $400,000 per year. The odds of Benford receiving an extension seemed remote late in the season, when he spoke often of what went wrong during his time at UNT and of how he enjoyed his stay at the school.

“This is a great place,” Benford said following a loss to Southern Miss in his final home game Feb. 25. “There are great people and great leadership here. Ultimately you have to win games. That is part of the business, and I understand that.”

Benford didn’t win nearly enough to satisfy fans or school officials, who were hoping for much more after hiring him to take over a program that had strung together six straight seasons with at least 18 wins. UNT advanced to the NCAA tournament twice in that span under coach Johnny Jones, who left for LSU after the 2011-12 season.

Benford inherited a loaded team that featured forward Tony Mitchell. The forward was projected as an NBA lottery pick when Benford arrived in Denton. Jordan Williams and Alzee Williams, two players who finished among the top 20 scorers in program history, were also on the roster.

North Texas lost junior forward Jeremy Combs in the middle of the season, which hurt its chances to break out  in Benford's fifth season with the Mean Green.  (Denton Record-Chronicle file photo)

North Texas lost junior forward Jeremy Combs in the middle of the season, which hurt its chances to break out in Benford’s fifth season with the Mean Green. (Denton Record-Chronicle file photo)

UNT’s program quickly fell apart, despite the talented players Benford inherited. The Mean Green finished 12-20 in Benford’s first season before creeping up to 16-16 his second year.

The program continued to decline after that brief uptick.

UNT slipped to 14-17, then to 12-20 and ultimately to its worst season in 16 years. The Mean Green’s 22 losses this season are the most since a 4-24 campaign under Vic Trilli in 2000-01.

UNT fans abandoned the program along the way. The Mean Green averaged just 2,089 fans in 18 home games this season, down from 4,006 in 2011-12, the year before Benford’s arrival.

“Mentally, it has been tough,” freshman guard A.J. Lawson said late in the season. “We tend to get down on ourselves.”

Continuing to push forward was tough for the Mean Green in a season when they suffered a series of devastating injuries. Preseason All-Conference USA forward Jeremy Combs played in just 14 games before Benford shut him down for the season so he could recover from an ankle injury.

Starting shooting guard Deckie Johnson played in 17 games, while highly regarded SMU transfer Keith Frazier appeared in just four. Johnson was lost for the season with a hip injury, while a knee injury cut Frazier’s season short.

“We can’t control injuries,” Benford said late in the year. “That is why we are in this position.”

UNT will now turn its attention to finding a coach to replace Benford and keeping as much of its roster intact as possible.

Point guard J-Mychal Reese is one of the key seniors North Texas lost to graduation at the end of the season. (Denton Record-Chronicle file photo)

Point guard J-Mychal Reese is one of the key seniors North Texas lost to graduation at the end of the season. (Denton Record-Chronicle file photo)

After Benford acknowledged in late January that Combs was out for the year, Combs said he would consider his options, including transferring, following the season. The former Dallas Carter standout will be a senior next season and has a redshirt year available.

UNT has a number of other young players, including Lawson and center Rickey Brice Jr., who could also consider their options heading into next season.

Benford’s return for a fifth season at UNT was far from a certainty following his fourth year at the school last spring. UNT officials danced around the question for days before acknowledging he would be back.

Benford’s return came just before a time of change in UNT athletics.

Former UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal stepped down last May and was later replaced by Baker.

Baker worked as a basketball operations assistant under legendary coach Eddie Sutton at Oklahoma State and later served as head coach at Rogers State in Claremore, Oklahoma, before going into administration.

Baker will now make his first major coaching hire at UNT in a sport where he has an extensive background.

“This is a highly attractive job that is located in one of the most talent-rich areas of the country and, in my opinion, the best region of the country to live in,” Baker said. “I couldn’t be more excited about the future of the program.”

North Texas athletic director Wren Baker will make his first major coaching hire after firing Tony Benford on Sunday night. (Denton Record-Chronicle file photo)

North Texas athletic director Wren Baker will make his first major coaching hire after firing Tony Benford on Sunday night. (Denton Record-Chronicle file photo)

The coach Baker selects will face a significant rebuilding project, even if he can retain Combs and UNT’s other key players with eligibility remaining.

Johnson, J-Mychal Reese and Derail Green were all seniors this season and played significant roles. Frazier was also a senior.

Reese averaged 10.9 points per game to rank second among UNT players. Green averaged 8.4 points per game, while Johnson averaged 8.1.

UNT managed just two conference wins even with those players at its disposal in a season that began with Benford expressing confidence in the Mean Green’s ability to turn the program around.

“There is always pressure,” Benford said. “I am not worried about it. That will take care of itself. I like where we are at and the guys we have in the program.”

That hope for a turnaround went unfulfilled, leading to Benford’s dismissal on Sunday night.

Late night hoops rewind: Marshall 106, UNT 104

Final: Marshall 106, North Texas 104

Where UNT stands: UNT finished 8-22 overall and 2-16 in Conference USA play after dropping its last game of the season.

Now what?: UNT failed to make the C-USA tournament and is done for the year. The Mean Green actually finished alone in last place in the league standings after Florida International upset UAB in its final game

Reese

Reese

Star of the day: J-Mychal Reese had a terrific final game of his college career in UNT’s loss to Marshall. The senior finished with 25 points six rebounds and three assists. Reese went 9-of-14 from the field and went 3-for-5 from 3-point range. A.J. Lawson also enjoyed a great offensive game on his way to scoring 26 points. The freshman did have an off night from the line, where he his just four of his 12 attempts. Derail Green also contributed in a big way while scoring 16 points and hitting four of his seven attempts from 3-point range.

Say what?:

“I think we stepped it up a little bit. We had to go and make it a play or it looked like they were going to win. Guys made plays, got aggressive with them, got a little physical and forced a couple of those turnovers.”

– Jon Elmore, Marshall guard after helping lead the Thundering Herd’s late rally to beat UNT

Our take: A disastrous season finished in a fitting manner for UNT on Saturday at Marshall. The Mean Green had a five-point lead with 86 seconds left and blew it.

UNT took a 104-99 lead on a Reese 3 before disaster struck. Ryan Taylor hit one of two foul shots with 1:14 remaining. Lawson missed a 3 with 52 seconds left, before Taylor hit a layup with 41 seconds remaining to draw Marshall within 104-102.

Lawson then missed two free throws with 40 seconds left. Taylor hit a free throw to bring Marshall within one at 104-103 with 25 seconds remaining.

UNT couldn’t get the ball in and turned the ball over on a five-second call.

Taylor hit another layup with seven seconds remaining to put Marshall up 105-104. UNT turned the ball over again with six seconds left.

Taylor hit another free throw and Lawson missed a layup at the buzzer.

The loss was another milestone in the epic collapse of the program under head coach Tony Bebford. UNT finished with 22 losses, the most in a season for the Mean Green since they finished 4-24 in their final season playing under Vic Trilli in the 2000-01 season.

The question now becomes what happens in the next few weeks in terms of the makeup of the UNT coaching staff and roster.

UNT athletic director Wren Baker has maintained throughout the season that he will evaluate the program after the season. That season is now over.

There are also questions about which players will return. The best player on the Mean Green’s roster is injured forward Jeremy Combs, who said during the season that he wouldn’t consider his future until after the year.

Combs has not redshirted and is a great student. He could look to transfer instead of coming back for what is sure to be a pretty big rebuilding project. UNT will lose Reese, Derail Green and Deckie Johnson to graduation. Injured guard Keith Frazier is also listed as a senior.

UNT has some good young players, but the Mean Green are looking at a pretty big rebuilding project.

The question now is who will be around to take part in it.

UNT-Marshall running blog

The North Texas women’s basketball team will take on Marshall today at the Super Pit. It’s Senior Day and we are along for the ride here on the blog.

UNT can even its Conference USA record at 9-9 with a win, which would be a big improvement over last season. UNT won just five league games a year ago.

Candice Adams, Terra Ellison and Kelsey Criner will play their final home games today. All three have enjoyed solid college careers. Adams is an inspirational player who has overcome a lot in her career in terms of injuries to become one of the best 3-point shooters in program history. Ellison could end up in the top 20 in program history in scoring. Criner is one of UNT’s all-time best in terms of assists.,

Marshall is 4-13 in conference play and has really struggled.

UNT should be able to send its seniors out on a high note. If the Mean Green manage to do  that, they will likely end up as the No. 8 seed in the C-USA tournament.

Starters for UNT — Kelsey Criner, Candice Adams, Terriell Bradley, Tyara Warren and Terra Ellison.

4:22 — UNT is up 15-14 at the first media timeout of the first half. Tyara Warren has seven points already. UNT was up four. Shayne Gore answered with a 3 and then hit two technical shots after Terriell Bradley got hit with the call after a questionable foul call. She thought she was fouled on the way to the basket and might have had a point.

End of the first quarter — UNT is up 19-17 at the end of the first quarter after Tyara Warren hit  a clutch jumper at the buzzer. She has nine points already. UNT scored the final four points of the quarter. Marshall went on an 8-2 run in the middle of the period to keep it close.

8:36 — UNT just took a timeout early in the second quarter. The Mean Green are struggling against Marshall’s 2-3 zone. UNT is drawing something up to try to get going again.

1:20 — UNT is down 32-28 late in the first half, but is on a 5-0 run.

Halftime — UNT is down 36-30 at halftime. This is a game UNT needs to win and should win. The Mean Green quit scoring for quite a while there in the second quarter, when Marshall outscored UNT 19-11. Terra Ellison has 10 points for UNT. Marshall shot 54.5 percent in the second quarter.

9:10 — UNT has opened the second half on a 5-0 run. Kelsey Criner just hit a 3. Marshall took a quick timeout. The Mean Green have come out with a look of determination.

3:12 — UNT is down 43-41 late in the third quarter. The Mean Green opened the half on a 9-2 run and was up one before Marshall answered with a 5-0 run. Terra Ellison has 12 points for UNT.

End of the third quarter — UNT was up one late in the third quarter on a Tyara Warren 3, but Shayna Gore scored the last four points of the period for Marshall, which is up 47-44. Warren and Terra Ellison both have 12 points for UNT.

6:18 — UNT tied up its game with Marshall on a Tyara Warren 3, but Marshall came right back down the floor and hit one of its own. UNT took a timeout and is now trailing 52-49. UNT left a shooter wide open.

3:32 — UNT is down 56-55, but is headed to the line coming out of this time out. Marshall guard Logan Fraley is down.

2:20 — UNT is back up 57-56 on a Terriell Bradley runner in the lane. Marshall just took a timeout.

1:03 — UNT is down 58-57 and just took a timeout. Marshall has the ball with 25 seconds left on the shot clock.

6.1 — UNT is down 59-57 and just took a timeout.

3.0 — Terriell Bradley was called for a travel on a drive. Marshall has the ball back with a chance to close this out. UNT needs a steal.

Final — Marshall 60, UNT 57. Tough loss for UNT.

Chalk talk: UNT at Marshall

North Texas coach Tony Benford and the Mean Green will wrap up their season on Saturday at Marshall. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Jeff Woo)

North Texas coach Tony Benford and the Mean Green will wrap up their season on Saturday at Marshall. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Jeff Woo)

North Texas at Marshall

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Where: Cam Henderson Center, Huntington, West Virginia

Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU-FM 88.1

Records: UNT 8-21, 2-15 Conference USA; Marshall 16-14, 9-8 Conference USA

Last game: Western Kentucky 74, UNT 63; Rice 89, Marshall 88

Projected UNT starting lineup:

PG: J-Mychal Reese, 6-2, Sr. — Reese bounced back from a rare off night offensively by scoring 14 points in UNT’s loss to Western Kentucky. The senior hit all but one of his five 3-point attempts. He is averaging 10.4 points and 2.9 rebounds per game.

G: Ryan Woolridge, 6-3, Fr. — Woolridge finished with nine points and six assists in UNT’s loss to Western Kentucky The freshman has been one of UNT’s best players late in the season and is averaging 9.6 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.

G: A.J. Lawson, 6-5, Fr. — Lawson endured a tough shooting night in UNT’s loss to Western Kentucky and finished with three points on 1-of-6 shooting. He is averaging 10.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.

F: Shane Temara, 6-9, Jr. — Temara finished with eight points in UNT’s loss to Western Kentucky and is in a bit of a shooting slump. The junior has hit just one of his last nine 3-point attempts over three games. He is averaging 6.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

F: Derail Green, 6-7, Sr. — Green saw his streak of games scoring in double figures end at four when he finished with nine points in UNT’s loss to Western Kentucky. Green hit two 3s against the Hilltoppers and is averaging 8.1 points per game.

Scouting Marshall: The Thundering Herd have lost three of their last four games and are in a tie for sixth place in the C-USA standings with UAB. Marshall is also only one game up on Western Kentucky. Jon Elmore is averaging 20.3 points per game to lead the Thundering Herd, which has a lot to play for today.

What you need to know: UNT’s disastrous fifth season under Tony Benford will mercifully come to an end Saturday. The Mean Green will be one of just two teams in C-USA to not make the league tournament.

The game will mark the end of the line for Reese and Green as far as their college careers go. It could also mark Combs last appearance with the Mean Green if he elects to transfer.

The junior said he would consider his options at the end of the season.

The game is also the last under Benford’s current five-year deal.

UNT athletic director Wren Baker has maintained that he will evaluate the program at the end of the season.

That time has now nearly arrived.