Katenda Sparks North Texas To 84-75 Win Over Rice
Combs Has Fifth Double-Double Of Season As Mean Green Open Homestand
Eric Katenda had a career-high 18 points against Rice Saturday. (photo by Rick Yeatts)
DENTON - Saturday, the Mean Green men began a vital stretch of their schedule: a three-game homestand against teams with a combined record of 19-26. If North Texas is serious about climbing to the top half of C-USA, this is where it could gain a lot of ground and separate itself from the middle of the league pack.
Eric Katenda made certain the Mean Green got off to an all-important victory in the homestand opener.
The 6-9 graduate-student senior from France, in his second start of the season, had a career-high 18 points, including a pair of thundering dunks to spark an 11-2 run in the second half and lead an intense Mean Green squad to an 85-74 victory over Rice at the Super Pit.
"I thought Eric did a tremendous job," North Texas coach Tony Benford said. "It was a great team effort."
Katenda was by no means the only star of the afternoon. North Texas' Jeremy Combs had his fifth double-double of the year with 22 points and 12 rebounds, Deckie Johnson scored 19 points, and Ja'Michael Brown had 12 points. And North Texas, 7-9 on the year but, more importantly, 2-1 in C-USA play, made 75 percent of its free throws and 78.3 percent in the second half after struggling so badly last weekend against UTEP.
"I was really pleased with our free throws," Benford said. "The guys came in early and shot a lot during the week."/p>
The importance of the game to both teams was evident in wild scrambles for loose balls and aggressive physical play throughout.
North Texas trailed only once, 5-4, before riding a 9-0 run to a 13-5 lead, then kicked into a higher gear and out-scored Rice 18-3 to go up 31-13. Combs had eight points and six boards, Johnson had nine points and Rickey Brice, Jr., matched a career-best with three shot blocks in the opening half.
But North Texas downshifted in the final four minutes of the half, and Rice took advantage. Despite making just 18 percent of their first-half shots (six of 33), the Owls put together a 9-0 run that that trimmed the Mean Green lead to 11 points at halftime.
The Mean Green, however, roared back to life in the second half. The assault began from long distance, with Brown and Johnson knocking down threes to extend the lead to 15.
Then Katenda went to work. He went on a personal 7-0 run, marked by a steal and fast-break dunk, drawing a foul and sinking the free throw. Combs added another dunk to stretch the lead to 24 points at 57-33.
Rice battled back late and drew within eight at 71-63, but a Carrington Ward layup and a Johnson three - his third of the game - extinguished the Owl comeback hopes.
After his strong effort against UTEP, Katenda earned his second start of the year. He scored the game's first four points, had three dunks and finished with 18 points and five rebounds.
Rice tried a little of the hack-a-Green strategy that proved successful for UTEP last weekend. North Texas countered by making its free throws, hitting 21 of 28.
Combs got the last of his 22 points on an alley-oop dunk on a perfect pass from Ja'Michael Brown.
Johnson was in double figures for the 12th time this season.
North Texas continues the homestand when the Marshall Thundering Herd visits the Super Pit on Thursday, Jan. 14, at 7 p.m.