Tylor Perry wondered at times over the last few weeks if the highlight moments he enjoyed Saturday during North Texas’ first big home game of the season would ever come.
The senior guard was cruising toward what is expected to be a monster year when what looked like disaster struck.
“I was going for a steal in practice and my knee buckled,” Perry said. “It was scary in the moment, but I was blessed. It wasn’t as serious as the doctors thought. I had to sit for two weeks. It was the worst two weeks of my life going through rehab.”
Those moments were worth it because they helped Perry return in time to help UNT pull away late for a 61-52 win over Fresno State in his first game of the year at the Super Pit.
The Mean Green limped through their first two games of the season without Perry and starting point guard Rubin Jones and looked lost at times. UNT (2-1) needed a late rally to beat Southern Nazarene in its opener and was drilled 63-33 by St. Mary’s last week.
UNT coach Grant McCasland and his players were confident they would get back on track once they got Perry and Jones back on the floor.
The Mean Green looked like a different team in their win over the Bulldogs (1-3).
“There’s a comfort level in roles with those guys out there,” McCasland said. “The hardest thing in college basketball with new players is role definition with who does what when and how.
“You can tell TP has been in our program and is comfortable with his role playing the point and everyone playing with him. When he was out everyone was trying to figure out their role.”
It wasn’t pretty at times without Perry and Jones, who had offseason knee surgery and hadn’t played since UNT’s opening game in the NIT last season. The Mean Green ranked last nationally with an average of 43.0 points per game gong into the night.
UNT has never been an offensive juggernaut under McCasland, who is a defense-first coach, but 43 points per game is rough even by his standards.
The Mean Green soared past that mark with their best — and most balanced — performance of the season. Perry scored a game-high 21 points, and Jayden Martinez added 10 off the bench.
Jones scored four points and grabbed three rebounds off the bench, which was a solid outing considering he underwent knee surgery in July and only returned to practice in the last few days.
“When they first called my name, I was smiling,” Jones said. “It’s a wonderful feeling to play basketball again. The whole process was hard from start to finish. I am glad it’s over.”
The return of Perry and Jones shifted the rest of UNT’s players into their familiar spots. The results were obvious.
The Mean Green had four players account for all but nine of their points in the first two games of the season. UNT had just seven players score in that span.
The Mean Green had eight players score in the win over Fresno State. Seven of those players scored at least four points.
“You can see that we have some depth at the guard spots and guys who can score,” McCasland said. “It’s about finding a comfort level and balance. It’s hard to compete the way we do defensively and then find a rhythm offensively. It takes time for guys to find their legs in our program.”
Perry and Jones found a comfort zone a long time ago. Perry didn’t need any time at all to make an impact. He was in UNT’s starting lineup and hit his first shot from the field — appropriately from 3-point range where he has always excelled.
Perry went on to hit back-to-back 3s during a 16-0 run that put UNT up 23-10. Fresno State answered with a 10-0 run to close the first half.
UNT didn’t score for the final 4:53 of the half, when the Bulldogs worked their way back into the game.
Fresno State pulled within one multiple times in the second half. The last time came at the 7:14 mark, when Leo Colimerio scored in the paint to pull the Bulldogs within 50-49.
UNT held Fresno State to three points the rest of the way.
“I thought this is Mean Green basketball,” McCasland said of the way UNT closed the game. “They scored five points the last eight minutes. We took care of the basketball and didn’t turn it over. There was a maturity level with how we finished.”
That maturity was due in large part to UNT having two of its most experienced players back on the floor in Perry and Jones.
“This can get us going,” Jones said of the win. “It was different with us out. Those guys had to play roles they hadn’t all year. We have our leaders back on the court. The energy is different.”
So was the result.
UNT officially raised banners to the rafters at the Super Pit before tipoff to commemorate its Conference USA regular-season title and NIT appearance last season.
North Texas 61, Fresno State 52
Fresno State (1-3) – Moore 4-5 2-4 11, Baker 5-11 1-4 12, Hill 2-9 1-1 5, Campbell 4-8 5-6 14, Holland 1-3 0-0 3, Yap 1-4 0-0 2, Isitua 0-0 0-0 0, Whitaker 0-0 0-0 0, Colimerio 2-3 0-0 4, Andre 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 19-44 10-17 52.
NORTH TEXAS (2-1) – Scott 1-1 5-6 8, Ousmane 1-3 4-4 6, Eady 1-6 0-0 3, Perry 6-14 5-5 21, Huntsberry 2-9 0-0 4, Jones 2-6 0-2 4, Martinez 2-4, 4-9 10, Sissoko 0-1 0-0 0, Stone 1-2 2-2 5, Morgan 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-46 20-28 61.
Halftime – UNT 31-28 Three-point goals – Fresno State 4-18 (Moore 1-1, Baker 1-4, Hill 0-3, Campbell 1-4, Holland 1-3, Yap 0-2, Colimerio 0-1) UNT 9-32 (Scott 1-1, Eady 1-6, Perry 4-10, Huntsberry 0-6, Jones 0-3, Martinez 2-4, Stone 1-2) Fouled out – none Rebounds – Fresno State 25 (Moore 7), UNT 39 (Martinez 9) Assists – Fresno State 6 (Moore 2) UNT 9 (Perry 3) Total fouls – Fresno State 22, UNT 17 A – 3,600.