Rubin Jones commit art

North Texas fans cheer on the Mean Green during a game at the Super Pit last season. UNT tied a program record by making 19 shots from 3-point range on Saturday in a win over Little Rock.

North Texas began a new season with a whole host of newcomers and not a lot time to incorporate them into the lineup, at least not if the Mean Green want to be ready for what might be the most challenging stretch of their season.

UNT took full advantage of that time, all 40 minutes of it, in a 79-40 win over Oklahoma Christian in its season opener on Tuesday at the Super Pit.

Thomas Bell, one of seven key newcomers to UNT’s rotation, scored a game-high 16 points and the Mean Green coasted most of the way in a what amounted to a glorified tuneup for a key series in the next few days.

Grant McCasland

Grant McCasland

“We got a good rotation of guys on the floor,” McCasland said. “That was important for our team, to get everyone minutes and experience under the lights.”

UNT is hoping to capitalize on that experience when it plays at No. 25 VCU on Friday before traveling to Arkansas next week.

UNT had plenty of questions heading into the season. Not all of them were answered in a game against an overmatched team from the Division II Lone Star Conference but there were plenty of positive signs along the way.

None was more important than the way UNT’s newcomers fit into a revamped lineup. The Mean Green lost three key guards from last season’s team and were without Roosevelt Smart, who McCasland suspended to start the season following an offseason DWI arrest.

That put a whole lot more pressure on UNT’s newcomers to perform.

The results were mixed.

Bell shined. Several other players had their good moments, and ones where they struggled to find their form.

“The new guys fit in really well,” junior forward Zachary Simmons said. “This is their first game out there. It’s a different level. They got out there and performed well. We emphasized keeping the energy up and playing good on defense.”

The offensive end remains a work in progress.

Junior college transfers James Reese and Javion Hamlet started in the backcourt for UNT. All eyes were on Hamlet, who is taking over as UNT’s point guard after Ryan Woolridge transferred to Gonzaga.

Hamlet finished with four points, six rebounds and four turnovers. Reese added five points and three rebounds.

“Javion tried to do a little too much offensively at times,” McCasland said. “We need James to be a little more aggressive.”

UNT also started Deng Geu. The graduate transfer forward from North Dakota State who has been battling injuries and finished with just two points in just more than 13 minutes of action.

McCasland continued to tout Geu’s future, despite a rough debut.

“He’s going to be awesome,” McCasland said.

Simmons finished with 14 points and Umojs Gibson added 12. It was Bell who stole the show, though. He scored 11 of his points in the first half to help UNT run out to a 37-18 lead.

Bell hit both of his attempts from 3-point range. Both of those shots from deep came in a 10-0 run that helped UNT get on track after a slow start.

UNT trailed twice in the early going before Bell cranked in his first 3 to break a 10-10 deadlock. The Mean Green quickly stretched their lead to double figures and cruised the rest of the way.

“I tried to make an impact off the bench,” Bell said. “It felt good to lead the team in scoring.”

UNT could need the punch Bell provides in the next few days when it takes on two powerful programs.

“I know VCU is a tough team,” Bell said. “We have to play hard in that environment and are looking forward to the challenge.”

North Texas 79, Oklahoma Christian 40

OKLAHOMA CHRISTIAN – Benjamin 2-4 0-0 5, Parmer 1-5 5-6 7, Blackwell 1-5 0-1 2, Reyes-Valdez 2-5 2-2 7, Aubery Johnson 0-5 0-0 0, Martin 0-0 0-0 0, Linhard 0-0 0-0 0, Walter 1-5 0-0 2, Staten 3-4 0-0 6, Gregg 0-1 0-0 0, Bagwell 2-2 0-0 6, Glover 0-1 0-0 0, Anthony Johnson 0-5 2-2 2, C. Johnson 1-4 1-1 3. Totals 13-46 10-13 40.

NORTH TEXAS – Geu 1-5 0-0 2, Z. Simmons 6-9 2-4 14, Hamlet 2-4 0-2 4, Gibson 5-7 1-2 12, Reese 2-5 0-0 5, J. Simmons 2-4 2-2 6, Bell 5-6 4-6 16, Jackson 1-2 1-2 3, Draper 3-3 0-0 9, Mohamed 1-1 0-0 3, Murray 0-1 0-0 0, Wise 2-2 0-0 5. Totals 30-49 10-18 79.

Halftime – UNT 37-18 Three-point goals – OC 4-19 (Benjamin 1-1, Blackwell 0-2, Reyes-Valdez 1-3, Aubrey Johnson 0-3, Walker 0-4, Staten 0-1, Gregg 0-1, Bagwell 2-2, Glover 0-1, Anthony Johnson 0-1) Fouled out – none Rebounds – OC 19 (Benjamin 5), UNT 39 (two tied, 6) Assists – OC 7 (Reyes-Valdez 4), UNT 15 (Gibson 4) Total fouls – OC 14, UNT 14 A – 2,831.

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

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