UTSA vs. OU photo gallery

UTSA freshman guard Tamir Bynum. Oklahoma beat UTSA 87-67 on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA freshman guard Tamir Bynum.

Oklahoma beat UTSA 87-67 on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center.

UTSA vs. St. Edward’s photo gallery

St. Edward's beat UTSA 77-76 in men's basketball on Wednesday night, Nov. 8, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center. Keaton Wallace had 15 points for the Roadrunners. - photo by Joe AlexanderSt. Edward’s beat UTSA 77-76 in men’s basketball on Wednesday night, Nov. 8, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center.

UTSA’s season ends with 76-69 playoff loss to Sam Houston State

UTSA guard Giovanni De Nicolao drives against Sam Houston State at the UTSA Convocation Center on Thursday, March 22, 2018 in the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com tournament.

UTSA sophomore guard Giovanni De Nicolao drives against Sam Houston State in the CIT quarterfinals. Photo by Joe Alexander.

An emotional UTSA coach Steve Henson addressed reporters Thursday night, explaining the difficulty of delivering a proper message to his players following their last game of the season.

“That’s always a tough conversation,” Henson said. “You know, you’re never totally prepared for it. Going into tonight’s game, (you’re) expecting to win and hoping to win and play next week, so, it was tough. A very tough locker room.”

Trailing by 12 early in the second half, Sam Houston State rallied to eliminate UTSA on its home court with a 76-69 victory in the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament.

An announced crowd of 1,352 watched as the visitors from the Southland Conference hit the home team with a late 17-2 run over a five-minute span to take charge.

With the surge, Sam Houston turned a 57-50 deficit into a 67-59 lead with five minutes remaining.

The Roadrunners (20-15) of Conference USA never got closer than five the rest of the way.

Ultimately, the Bearkats (21-14) won the game at the free-throw line. They hit 27 of 34 to only 7 of 13 for the Roadrunners.

UTSA players took the loss hard.

“I want to keep this feeling, right here, for all summer, how I hurt right now, to work out all summer, to get better and to win the conference (next year),” UTSA guard Giovanni De Nicolao said.

Sam Houston State’s Josh Delaney (15) drives hard to the bucket and dishes to teammate Freddy Bitondo (0) for a layup mid-way through the second half.

Statistical leaders

Sam Houston State: John Dewey III, 18 points, including 13 in the second half. He hit 8 of 10 free throws. Cameron Delaney, 13 points, 6 rebounds. Chris Galbreath, 11 points, 12 rebounds. Josh Delaney, 11 points, 5 assists.

UTSA: Keaton Wallace, 18 points on 6 of 11 shooting, 3 of 7 from three-point distance. Giovanni De Nicolao, 17 points on 7 of 13, including 3 of 5 from three. Nick Allen, 11 points, 4 of 12. Byron Frohnen, 8 points, 4 rebounds. Deon Lyle, 5 points on 2 of 9, 1 of 7 from three.

UTSA forward Byron Frohnen runs the floor and gets the ball for an easy shot late in the first half against Sam Houston State.

First-half highlights

The UTSA Roadrunners hit eight three-pointers in the first half, breaking out to a 37-28 intermission lead.

Wallace led the long-distance barrage, nailing three shots from beyond the arc.

De Nicolao and Allen added two more apiece as the Roadrunners nailed 8 of 16 overall.

Defensively, UTSA played well, holding Sam Houston to 10 of 30 from the field and 4 of 6 free throws.

UTSA guard Giovanni De Nicolao hits a three from the corner early in the first half against Sam Houston State.

Game notes

UTSA players wanted a CIT championship, but they did bring home a 20-win season — only the seventh in the program’s 37 years.

The Roadrunners played its sixth straight game without leading scorer Jhivvan Jackson, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Feb. 24 against Louisiana Tech. UTSA went 3-3 in his absence, including 1-1 in the C-USA tournament and 1-1 in the CIT.

Cameron Delaney, a junior guard from Harker Heights, sparked Sam Houston’s decisive 17-2 run with three-pointer, a steal and another basket.

The Bearkats played without guard Marcus Harris, who injured his foot Monday night in a 69-62 home victory over Eastern Michigan. Harris played in high school in San Antonio for the MacArthur Brahmas. He is averaging 9.7 points per game.

CIT quarterfinals

Saturday’s game
Central Michigan at Liberty

Thursday’s results
Sam Houston State beat UTSA, 76-69

Wednesday’s results
Illinois-Chicago beat Austin Peay, 83-81
Northern Colorado beat San Diego, 86-75

UTSA’s 20-win seasons
Year, record, head coach

1983-84: 20-8 (Don Eddy)
1987-88: 22-9 (Ken Burmeister)
1989-90: 22-7 (Ken Burmeister)
1990-91: 21-8 (Stu Starner)
1991-92: 21-8 (Stu Starner)
2010-11: 20-14 (Brooks Thompson)
2017-18: 20-15 (Steve Henson)

UTSA guard Keaton Wallace plays defense against Sam Houston State's Dajuan Jones at the UTSA Convocation Center on Thursday, March 22, 2018 in the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com tournament.

UTSA freshman guard Keaton Wallace plays defense against Sam Houston State’s Dajuan Jones. Wallace finished with a team-high 18 points. Photo by Joe Alexander.

De Nicolao’s steady play triggers UTSA’s free-wheeling offense

UTSA point guard Giovanni De Nicolao drives to the bucket Thursday night in the first half against Rice. Video: thejbreplay.com

Giovanni De Nicolao admits that he faced a period of social adjustment when he first arrived in San Antonio in 2016.

Born and raised in Italy, he was a long way from home.

Giovanni De Nicolao

“Initially it was a little bit hard,” UTSA’s sophomore point guard said. “Everything is different, away from family. When I got here, I didn’t know anybody, but I adapt easily.

“Especially, with the coaches, they did a really good job. (Incoming players in) my class, my freshman class, we were just friends – on the basketball team and also outside (of the gym). That was kind of, last year, my family.”

If De Nicolao has ever been homesick, it’s been hard to tell based on his performance level on the court.

In a little more than two seasons with the Roadrunners, he has started every game.

At the moment, the 6-foot-3 guard from Padua, Italy, is sort of like the maestro of a finely-tuned orchestra.

With De Nicolao’s hands on the ball coming up court, free-wheeling UTSA (8-6, 1-0) ranks second in the conference in scoring at 86.6 points leading into tonight’s home game against North Texas (8-6, 1-0).

He leads a fast-improving program in assists (3.8) and steals (2.1) and is second in minutes played (25.3).

“He hasn’t had a bad day in a year and a half,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “He hasn’t had a bad practice. Every day, he walks in and he’s ready to practice. He’s all about the right things. He never takes a practice off.”

Henson traced that mindset to De Nicolao’s background in basketball.

“His dad is a coach,” Henson said. “He’s got an older brother that plays (professionally). He’s grown up the way a lot of kids in the states (did) 20 years ago (in) the way he thinks.”

De Nicolao is a pass-first guard, always looking for his teammates. He shoots only when the situation calls for it.

“The point guard position has changed so much,” said Henson, who once played the position at Kansas State. “So many of the elites, those guys they watch in the NBA, those guys are the leading scorers on their teams.

“He’s a little more of a throw-back guy. He’s about running the show and leading with his defense and penetration and assists.”

Last year, the Roadrunners struggled to shoot from the perimeter, meaning that De Nicolao often found himself forced to make a play when the shot clock was running down.

This year, with freshmen sharp-shooters Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace on the floor, the pressure is off the lead guard.

De Nicolao said it’s almost like a point guard’s dream to play on this team, with so many confident shooters.

“As you say, if someone miss one or two in a row, I’m going to find them again to get the third one, because I know they’re going to make it,” De Nicolao said. “Also, I don’t have to pass only to one guy. I can distribute the ball.

“I can get it to Kea(ton), Deon (Lyle), to Jhivvan, and I know they’re all going to make the shot. If they miss one, I know the next one is going to go in.”

De Nicolao acknowledged that he feels more at ease on the court this year, in part, because of his solid friendships and a growing familiarity with his surroundings.

“That definitely impact my game, because I feel more free, and secure,” he said.

Even so, De Nicolao said he talks regularly via FaceTime with members of his family back home.
He said he typically calls home following an afternoon practice, or, between 11 p.m. and midnight in Italy.

The conversations invariably turn to basketball.

“Both my brothers are both point guards,” De Nicolao said. “Also, my dad, he was a point guard. So, we have that point guard mentality.”

In San Antonio, he feels most at home with his closest friends, his teammates.

De Nicolao said after a Friday workout that he likes UTSA’s chances for continued success because of players’ unselfish attitude about the game.

“I think we have real good freshmen this year,” De Nicolao said. “Not only can they score. Not only can they make shots. But, they also pass the ball really well. Today I noticed (that) nobody forced a shot. We’re always trying to make an extra pass to get someone open.

“Whoever is going to shoot the ball, everyone is excited, because we know (it’s) going to go in.”

The ball moves quickly in UTSA’s offense, this time from Jhivvan Jackson on the left, to Giovanni De Nicolao in the middle. De Nicolao promptly executes a touch pass to Keaton Wallace for the three-pointer. Video: thejbreplay.com