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Denver 79, North Texas 52

DENVER (AP) -- Denver coach Terry Carroll had a simple plan to
slow North Texas' perimeter shooters: Force them to put the ball on
the floor.

It couldn't have worked out much better.

Erik Benzel had 17 points and hit five 3-pointers, and Denver
held North Texas to 23 percent shooting in a 79-52 victory over the
Mean Green Thursday night.

"Our whole concept was to put pressure on the perimeter and
force them to drive the ball, and have weakside support to help
us," Carroll said. "We did that really well in the first half."

Actually, Denver (7-6, 2-0 Sun Belt) did it for the whole game.

North Texas (8-5, 1-1) had a miserable night shooting, missing
uncontested layups, shooting airballs on open jumpers and even
botching a 4-on-1 break. The Mean Green were at least effective
from 3-point range, going 7-for-18, but hit just 11-of-58 from
inside the arc.

Leonard Hopkins was the only North Texas player in double
figures, scoring 12 points on 4-of-17 shooting.

"I can't remember us shooting 23 percent or lower. It may have
happened, but I'm not sure," North Texas coach Johnny Jones said.
"We had some good looks. We missed a lot of layups and a lot of
open shots."

Denver didn't make things any easier in its first home game
since Dec. 13. The Pioneers took control with an early 17-0 run and
never let up, shooting 50 percent to win its third straight game.

Yemi Nicholson had his way inside at both ends, with 14 points,
12 rebounds and five of the Pioneers' 12 blocked shots. Rodney
Billups was effective at the point without much scoring, finishing
with six points, 10 assists, eight rebounds and four steals. Benzel
added five assists and four steals.

"The 17-0 run started because our defensive rebounding picked
up," Carroll said.

North Texas started off impatient and careless -- not a good
combination.

The Mean Green had nine turnovers by halftime -- five on
consecutive possessions midway through -- and took plenty of quick
shots, prompting Jones to yell "work for the shot" several times.

North Texas was just 8-for-34 in the first half and went almost
nine minutes without a field goal after taking a 6-2 lead. The Mean
Green also had seven shots blocked, managing a season-low 23 points
by halftime.

"We weren't poised enough and allowed them to force us out of
our offense early," Jones said. "Instead of sticking with it and
grinding it out, we developed some bad habits."

North Texas had plenty of lapses on defense, too.

The Mean Green tried fronting Nicholson in the post but did a
poor job of helping on the weak side, allowing him to hit 4-of-9
shots for 10 points and grab eight rebounds by halftime. The Mean
Green also had trouble getting back and allowed plenty of cutters
down the lane, particularly during the 17-0 run that put Denver up
19-6 midway through.

The Pioneers didn't let up in the second half, shooting 56
percent to push the lead to 27 points. Denver wasn't bad on
defense, either, holding North Texas to 10-of-42 from the field and
breaking up a 4-on-1 when Billups reached over Hopkins and blocked
his shot.

"Defensive pressure and rebounding is what we live off of,"
Carroll said. "We have to have that every night for 40 minutes for
our team to be able to what we are able to do. There is no way we
can just outscore people. That's not going to happen."