UTSA defeats FAU for its 10th straight win at home

Everyone, it seems, wants to know the real nickname for the UTSA tandem of Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace.

Roadrunners coach Steve Henson admits he doesn’t know.

“I don’t,” he said. “I’ve been calling them the Dallas Duo. Other people have been calling them the Dynamic Duo. Somebody’s got to come up with something pretty good for ’em. They’ve been doing some special things.”

If they continue to play at their current level for the next three weeks, the issue may resolve itself by default.

By the first week of March, the nickname could become something mundane. Something like, say, “Conference USA champions.”

Jackson and Wallace scored 24 points each Saturday, pacing UTSA to an 86-74 victory over the Florida Atlantic University Owls.

The win was the 10th straight at home for the Roadrunners, who remained a half game back of first-place Old Dominion.

Records

Florida Atlantic 14-11, 5-7
UTSA 15-10, 9-3

C-USA leaders

Old Dominion 10-3, UTSA 9-3, North Texas 8-4, Western Kentucky 8-4, Southern Miss 7-5, UAB 6-6, Marshall 6-6. (The top five in the standings after next weekend qualify for the the top tier of the conference’s four-game bonus round.)

Title chase rundown

In other games involving the conference’s leaders, Old Dominion won on the road at Middle Tennessee, 55-50, to maintain a half game lead on UTSA. Western Kentucky claimed a 62-59 victory over North Texas in Denton.

Individuals

Florida Atlantic — Kevaughn Ellis 14 points, 4 of 6 on three-pointers. Anthony Adger 12 points, 11 rebounds. Michael Forrest 13 points, 4 assists.

UTSA — Jhivvan Jackson 24 points, 6 of 12 on three-pointers. Also, 9 rebounds, 3 assists. Keaton Wallace 24 points on 5 of 13 from three. Also, 8 rebounds, 2 assists. Giovanni De Nicolao 10 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds. Off the bench, Atem Bior 9 points, 3 rebounds.

Second-half surge

With the game tied 53-53 early in the second half, UTSA reeled off 16 straight points to take control.

The UTSA defense sparked the spree by forcing FAU into seven straight missed shots and four turnovers.

De Nicolao ignited it offensively with a three-pointer. Nick Allen finished it with a driving layup to make it 69-53 with 9:21 remaining.

UTSA battled with Florida Atlantic throughout a physical first half and emerged with a seven-point halftime lead. Jackson scored 16 and Wallace 14 for the Roadrunners.

UTSA fans booed the visiting team and the referees on a few controversial plays before halftime.

On one, as seen below, Jackson drove into traffic, drew contact and fell to the floor but did not get a call.

Later, Wallace drove and got nailed, landing hard on his back and elbow. Wallace was awarded free throws, but FAU was not charged with a flagrant foul.

Notable

Jackson boosted his season average to 22.7 points per game. Wallace is averaging 21.0. They rank Nos. 1 and 3 on the updated C-USA scoring chart … Wallace’s five three-pointers gave him 101 for the season, a UTSA record … Forward Nick Allen received six stitches to repair a cut above his nose at halftime. He returned to the court with 15:56 left in the game and played most of the rest of the second half.

Jackson scores a career-high 46, but UTSA loses in overtime

Jared Savage knocked down three 3-point shots in overtime Thursday night as Western Kentucky Hilltoppers subdued the UTSA Roadrunners, 96-88, in Conference USA.

Jhivvan Jackson. UTSA beat Southeastern Oklahoma State 70-67 on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jhivvan Jackson scored a career-high 46 points, the third most in UTSA school history.

In the game played at Bowling Green, Kentucky, the Hilltoppers overcame a career-high, 46-point effort from UTSA’s Jhivvan Jackson.

UTSA’s Keaton Wallace scored 26.

Charles Bassey led the Hilltoppers with 22 points and 18 rebounds. Western Kentucky point guard Lamonte Bearden had 22 points and seven assists.

But it was Savage, a junior from Bowling Green, who hit the shots that mattered in the extra period.

His third in the overtime lifted the Hilltoppers into a 91-85 lead with 1:38 remaining.

UTSA made a crucial turnover in the final seconds of regulation that allowed Western Kentucky to tie the game and send it to overtime.

Byron Frohnen inbounded to Jackson, who tried to pass it back to Frohnen. But Bearden stepped in to make the steal.

Fouled on the play, Bearden went to the line and made one of two free throws, tying the game at 78-78.

The Roadrunners still had a chance as they rushed the ball upcourt, but a Giovanni De Nicolao runner was off the mark.

Record-setting effort spoiled

The loss negated one of the greatest individual performances in UTSA history.

Jackson hit 16 of 31 shots from the field, including 8 of 14 from three. The 6-foot sophomore from Puerto Rico was 6 of 8 on free throws.

In the end, he finished with the scoring record for an opposing player at E.A. Diddle Arena, the second most points in C-USA history and the third most in UTSA history.

Jackson drove for a layup and made a couple of free throws early in the overtime, but in the face of intense pressure from the Western Kentucky defense, he missed his last three attempts.

For Western Kentucky, Bassey sank 7 of 8 from the field and pulled down four rebounds off the offensive glass.

The 6-11, 245-pounder from Nigeria played two years at San Antonio’s St. Anthony Catholic High School before transferring to Aspire Academy in Louisville last season.

Records

Western Kentucky 12-10, 5-4
UTSA 12-10, 6-3

Notable

The Roadrunners had a four-point lead with a little more than a minute left in regulation and couldn’t close out the game. As a result, they were knocked out of first place in the C-USA standings.

Quotable

“(I’m) sick for our guys. You know, we got to find a way to win that game. Just finish it. We turned it over, missed a free throw, turned it over again. We put ourselves in a position (and then) they make a couple of threes, bank in a three, and we lose. That just can’t happen. We gotta find a way to win that game.” — UTSA coach Steve Henson, in comments aired on the team’s radio broadcast.

Western Kentucky coach on UTSA: ‘They’re 6-2 for a reason’

Calling UTSA’s Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace “two of the better guards … in the country,” Western Kentucky coach Rick Stansbury said it’s not surprising that the Roadrunners have surged into a tie for first place in Conference USA.

The coach made his remarks on the eve of his team’s C-USA home game tonight against the surprising Roadrunners in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

“They’re 6-2 for a reason,” Stansbury said. “They’ve got two of the better guards — not just in this league — in the country.

“When you’ve got guys … that can shoot it like that, you can come back from 17 down with three minutes and 45 seconds left.”

Trailing by 18 points with 4 minutes and 43 seconds remaining last Saturday in San Antonio, UTSA wiped out the deficit and beat Old Dominion, 74-73.

Perhaps more remarkably, the Roadrunners were behind by 17 with 3:45 left and still beat the Monarchs, thanks to the shooting of Jackson and Wallace.

The 18-point comeback is said to be the second largest point differential ever erased in NCAA Division I for a team trailing with less than five minutes on the clock.

The record is believed to be a 19-point deficit that was wiped out by the Nevada Wolf Pack in 2017, when they beat New Mexico, 105-104, in overtime and on the road.

For the Roadrunners, the performance against ODU was the third double-digit deficit that they have erased this season in a winning effort.

Previously, they knocked off Houston Baptist after falling behind by 11. They also beat UTEP after trailing by 10.

Stansbury pointed out that the Roadrunners nearly did it at Middle Tennessee, two weeks ago, as well.

In that game, the Roadrunners were down by 21 in the second half and ended up losing by three.

“They’re a really explosive team, offensively,” Stansbury said. “Jackson and Wallace can score that ball in bunches, in a hurry. When you’ve got guards that can do that, you got a chance against anybody on a given night.”

Jackson is leading C-USA, averaging 22 points per game. Wallace is fifth at 18.9.

Two freshmen, Taveion Hollingsworth and Charles Bassey, lead Western Kentucky and make the Hilltoppers one of the most dangerous teams in the conference.

Hollingsworth leads the Hilltoppers with 15.2 points per game.

Bassey, a 6-foot-11 native Nigerian who played at St. Anthony in San Antonio, averages 14.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks.

In what should be a revealing trip for UTSA, the Roadrunners play at Western Kentucky tonight and at Marshall, in Huntington, West Virginia, on Saturday.

Marshall was the C-USA’s representative in the NCAA Tournament last season.

Records

UTSA 12-9, 6-2
Western Kentucky 11-10, 4-4

UTSA’s Adokiye Iyaye making the most of his opportunities

On a first-half breakout Thursday night against Charlotte, UTSA reserve guard Adokiye Iyaye sped down one sideline and stationed himself in the corner.

He looked up to see a bullet pass coming his way.

UTSA freshman Adokiye Iyaye is averaging 5.7 points per game on 47.1 percent shooting for the season. –Photo by Joe Alexander.

After making the catch, he knew exactly where he wanted to go with the ball.

Straight to the basket.

Iyaye flashed down the baseline and scored on an easy layup before the 49ers’ defense had time to rotate.

Even though Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace have led the Roadrunners offensively all year, plays like this have started to happen much more frequently lately for the Roadrunners, who will host the Conference USA-leading Old Dominion Monarchs Saturday afternoon at the Convocation Center.

Iyaye has hit 14 of 19 shots from the field over his last five games, helping UTSA surge into a tie for second place in the conference race.

In an 88-43 rout of Charlotte, the program’s most lopsided victory in conference play in 28 years, Iyaye hit 5 of 6 shots from the field and tied a career high with 12 points.

Teammates say that Iyaye has always had the ability but is just now developing more confidence as he moves along in his first year of college basketball.

“We know that he’s going to make the right decision, make the right plays, take the right shots,” Wallace said. “In practice, he’s been picking it up. Better defensively, better offensively.

“We just expect good things out of Adokiye.”

Jackson said Iyaye has “stepped up big” in the team’s pursuit of a conference title.

“We want him to do that,” Jackson said. “He can do that every night, if he just plays the way he did (against the 49ers). He’s getting more confident. We just tell him to keep going. We tell him to take more shots if he’s open.

“He’s (also) helped us on the defensive end, putting pressure on the ball. Just making plays.”

Last year, Iyaye was the man for his high school in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He averaged 18 points per game and led Putnam to the Class 6A title.

This year, it’s been a new experience for him, both in coming off the bench and in facing bigger and faster players.

Now he’s picking up the nuances of the college game at a rapid pace, as evidenced by his recent statistics — 7 points per game and 73.6 percent shooting in his last five.

Not bad for a kid from Tulsa who just turned 19.

“I’m finding my groove a little bit,” Iyaye said. “My teammates, they’re always on me, telling me that I’m going to be fine.”

“I wasn’t making shots early, but they keep telling me to shoot and give me a lot of encouragement. They’re like my big brothers.

“Hearing that every day, it makes me feel like, if I have a bad game, I’ll do better next time.”

Jackson scores 28, as UTSA rolls past Charlotte, 88-43

Sophomore guard Jhivvan Jackson steps back behind the three-point line to hoist a shot. Jackson hit six threes against the Charlotte 49ers. — Photo by Joe Alexander

The UTSA Roadrunners didn’t like the feeling of losing two in a row in Conference USA.

In response, they took out their frustrations on the Charlotte 49ers, rolling to an 88-43 victory Thursday night at the UTSA Convocation Center.

Coming on the heels of road losses at Middle Tennessee and UAB, it was UTSA’s largest winning margin against an NCAA Division I program in three seasons under Coach Steve Henson.

It was also the program’s widest margin of victory in a C-USA game since joining the conference for the 2013-14 season.

Sophomore Jhivvan Jackson led the way with 28 points on an efficient 11 of 19 shooting from the field. He hit six three-pointers.

UTSA led by 25 at intermission and boosted it into the 30s four minutes into the second half.

The lead expanded into the 40s with two minutes left and grew to 45 on the last bucket of the night, a layup by reserve forward Adrian Rodriguez, with 19 seconds remaining.

Records

Charlotte 5-14, 2-6
UTSA 11-9, 5-2

Notable

Previously, UTSA’s largest margin of victory in a C-USA game (21) came three years ago against Southern Miss. The Roadrunners beat the the Golden Eagles 74-53 on Feb. 20, 2016 at the Convocation Center.

Quotable

“We were really locked in defensively. Then Jhivvan got hot. We did some good things offensively anyway, and then he got real, real hot, and we popped the game open in the first half.” — UTSA coach Steve Henson.

Coming up

UTSA will host the C-USA title-contending Old Dominion Monarchs on Saturday at 3 p.m. Old Dominion downed the UTEP Miners, 50-48, Thursday in El Paso.

With the win, the Monarchs improved to 16-5 and 6-2 in the C-USA. They lead the conference standings over Marshall, North Texas, UTSA and UAB, all at 5-2.


Jackson hits one of his five first-half three pointers. He swished this one after a defender put a hand in his face. Jackson created some space between him and the defender with a slight lean to his right.

First half

Jackson scored 21 points in 18 minutes in the first half for the Roadrunners, who rolled to a 44-19 lead on Charlotte at intermission.

Jackson was 8 of 13 from the field and was particularly deadly from long distance, hitting five of nine.

He hoisted his last trey from a spot directly in front of the Charlotte bench (see video above).


Sophomore Keaton Wallace breaks free for a floater in the lane as UTSA scores off an out-of-bounds play in the second half.

Taking an early lead

Charlotte was in the game for the first five minutes. The 49ers took an 8-6 lead when guard Jon Davis sank a driving layup.

After that, UTSA responded with a 16-0 run, capped by three consecutive threes from Jackson.

The last one made it 22-8 with 10:52 remaining.

Sub-plots

Jackson effectively bounced back from two erratic shooting nights on the road. He hit a combined 18 of 49 from the field last week against Middle Tennessee and UAB … The Roadrunners have won eight of their last 10 games overall … They connected on 55.7 percent from the field for a season best against a Division I opponent … In addition, they also established a season high by limiting the 49ers to 29.6 percent … Jon Davis, Charlotte’s scoring leader, was held nine points under his average. He finished with 12.

Individuals

Charlotte — Jon Davis, 12 points, 5 of 11 shooting.

UTSA — Jackson, 28 points on 11 of 19 from the floor and 6 of 12 from three. Keaton Wallace, 15 points and three assists. Adokiye Iyaye, 12 points, 5 of 6 shooting, three offensive rebounds.


Jackson scores his final basket with 6:46 remaining as he picks up a loose ball in the lane and lays it in. The ball popped out when two Charlotte players fumbled the rebound, emblematic of a tough night for the 49ers.

Resilience defines Steve Henson’s UTSA Roadrunners

Steve Henson, UTSA beat Mid-American Christian 104-74 on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Coach Steve Henson has led UTSA into first place in Conference USA. – Photo by Joe Alexander.

In the first few years of the Steve Henson era at UTSA, one characteristic of his core group of players stands out above all the rest. It’s resilience. Physically, the Roadrunners won’t overwhelm anyone. But, like a wily boxer backed up on the ropes, they will deliver a devastating counter-punch when least expected.

Take, for instance, last year’s trip to Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders thrashed the Roadrunners by 24 points and dropped them to 10-11 overall and 3-5 in Conference USA. But on the second stop on the trip, they somehow came up off the mat and delivered a few haymakers, winning 82-70 at UAB.

The rest is history, as the Roadrunners finished 20-15, including 11-7 in conference — the first 20-win season at UTSA in seven years. This season, it’s happened again. Starting the year without their best player, they plunged into their first few games and came up looking like Jerry Quarry against Muhammad Ali. They were 0-5 and reeling.

Jhivvan Jackson. UTSA beat Southeastern Oklahoma State 70-67 on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jhivvan Jackson sat out the first three games this season to complete rehabilitation from a knee injury. He’s averaged 20.5 points since his return.

Undaunted, players on a trip to Florida for the Gulf Coast Showcase talked among themselves and got some things straightened out. Since then, UTSA has ripped off a 10-2 record, including a seven-game winning streak and a school-record tying 4-0 start in conference.

Given all that, I talked to Coach Henson yesterday as he prepared his team for a return trip to Murfreesboro. I asked about his core group — Nick Allen, Giovanni De Nicolao, Byron Frohnen, Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace — and why he thinks those players are so resilient, so capable of handling adversity.

Here’s his response, in a Q&A format:

“A lot of factors there. It’s a very mature group. It’s a secure group. Got good leadership. And we’ve got so many guys whose only priority is finding a way to win. Doing whatever it takes to win. It’s a competitive, tough group. I’ve said it before. It’s not the type of group you’d literally want to get in an alley fight with. Basketball toughness, this group has it. They care about each other. There’s never been panic.

“This year, when we got off to a slow start, panic never set in. They knew we could right the ship. We just kept telling ’em, we have everything we need on this team to have a great year. And they believed that.

“Last year, you’re right on it. We lost a couple of games at home against teams that were not projected to be in the top half. We had an unbelievable stretch upcoming. Went to Middle Tennessee, and we were down 30 in that game. The next day, we had a great practice, a great film session.

“Pulled a few guys aside, the guys taking most of the shots. Jhivvan, Keaton and Deon (Lyle). Showed ’em their shots. Talked about getting better shots. Continuing to have that freedom, shooting it freely. Shooting it quickly. But let’s turn down a good shot for a great shot.”

Byron Frohnen. UTSA beat Southeastern Oklahoma State 70-67 on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Junior Byron Frohnen doesn’t need many shots to be effective. He leads the Roadrunners in rebounding. – Photo by Joe Alexander

So, part of it is just being coachable?

“Probably more succinct than what I just said, but, yeah. Willingness and coachability. For sure. Our season did turn at UAB last year. It was one of our best games of the year offensively and defensively. It was huge, because we were coming back home to play Marshall and Western Kentucky. With UTEP looming. So, our backs were against the wall. And our guys responded very, very well.”

When you’re recruiting, how do you find players who have those qualities?

“It’s hard. You watch body language. You talk to coaches. We try to recruit from successful programs. Guys who are used to winning. There’s great value in that. A lot of coaches value that. Sometimes, there’s going to be some unknowns. You just try to do as much work as you can … You want guys that just love to play, guys that are hungry. Guys that care about their teammates.”

It sounds as if some of the players got together after the loss to South Dakota State earlier this season and talked it over.

“When your players take ownership of your program, you’ve got a much better chance of being successful. I mean, we want it. We know they want it. They know coaches want it. When it comes from them, it’s got much more weight. And it doesn’t have to be upperclassmen.

“You know, leadership can come from anyone. When it comes from the players, it means a lot. Not surprised that they were frustrated (on the trip to Florida). But they also know that we could turn it around. (That) there was no doubt. I keep talking abouut panic. But there was no doubt. They believed.”


Last Saturday, UTSA played its trademark tough defense in defeating North Texas, 76-74. With the performance, the Roadrunners snapped the Mean Green’s eight-game winnning streak and took over first place in the conference.

UTSA knocks off North Texas on Jackson’s spinning winner


UTSA guard Jhivvan Jackson hits a wild shot for the game winner Saturday afternoon against North Texas as the Roadrunners take over first place in Conference USA.

As UTSA basketball coach Steve Henson concluded his post-game interview Saturday afternoon, someone told him that the Kansas City Chiefs were winning in their NFL playoff game against Indianapolis.

“Wow,” the Kansas native said, smiling as he stepped away from a gaggle or reporters. “The day just keeps getting better.”

As Henson kept walking, he kept talking.

“I got a Whataburger ticket in my pocket,” he added, still smiling.

And then he continued on, with his voice trailing off, trying to take in the feeling of being the coach of the first-place team in Conference USA.

UTSA took over the top spot in dramatic style, as guard Jhivvan Jackson sank a spinning, off-balance shot from 17 feet with 1.6 seconds left.

On the last play, North Texas executed a three-quarter, length-of-the-court pass to 6-10 center Zachary Simmons, who spun and hoisted a 16 footer that was off the mark as time expired.

After the miss, UTSA players charged off the bench to celebrate their seventh straight victory in front of an announced crowd of 1,192.

The win was sweet on a number of levels, but, most importantly, it lifted the Roadrunners into the top spot in the Conference USA standings.

So, how does it feel to be in first, coach?

“Got a nice ring to it,” Henson said. “Our guys are pretty excited. But we know we haven’t done enough yet. Really, we’re 4-0. We’ve played three home games. We’ve gone on the road and won once.

“If we’re going to do something special, we really have just gotten started.”

On the last offensive possession, the Roadrunners pitched the ball around a few times and then got it to Jackson in isolation against Jorden Duffy on the right side.

Jackson, one of the most electric offensive players in the conference, slipped when he first tried to make a move, and then he bobbled the ball.

Grabbing it out of the air, the sophomore executed a spin move toward the baseline and then calmly sank a one-hander from about 17 feet.

Replays showed Jackson’s teammate, Byron Frohnen, with a look of disbelief under the basket as the ball hit the bottom of the net.

“We just wanted to get him the ball,” Henson said. “He didn’t have a very good first half. He got a little frustrated. (He) thought he was getting fouled and didn’t deal with it very well.

“But (he’s) a competitive guy. We knew we wanted to get him the ball … with a chance to win it or go to overtime.

“(We) thought he might draw a foul. He didn’t. He almost lost his balance. Got it back, and did what great players do.”

Records

North Texas 16-2, 4-1
UTSA 10-7, 4-0


North Texas’ Jorden Duffy misses out of the corner. Zachary Simmons rebounds, and then Roosevelt Smart hits a three to tie with 50 seconds left. In the end, UTSA held on to snap the Mean Green’s eight-game winning streak.

Jackson: ‘I had to improvise’

When Jhivvan Jackson arrived at UTSA a few years ago, at least one pundit on social media compared him to former NBA star Allen Iverson.

Even though it’s hard to live up to that hype, Jackson can at least lay claim to one of the most remarkable clutch shots in recent school history.

“I tried to shoot a jab (step), but I slipped and had to improvise a little,” Jackson said. “It just went in. I think it was payback for that play I missed right before that.”

With the game tied 74-74, Jackson missed a jumper that was rebounded by Frohnen. UTSA promptly called time out with 13 seconds left to set up the last possession.

Jackson hit the shot, ending North Texas’ eight-game winning streak.

“Great game,” he said. “Practices have been helping us a lot. We’ve been really taking practice serious, and it’s been translating to the game.

“We played great defense on their point guard, (Ryan) Woolridge. Defensively, it was a great game. That’s what got us the win.”

Individuals

North Texas — Roosevelt Smart, 18 points, five three-pointers. Ryan Woolridge, 17 points, 9 rebounds. Jorden Duffy, 15 points. Zachary Simmoons, 12 points, 8 rebounds.

UTSA — Jhivvan Jackson, 17 points, 6 of 18 shooting. Nick Allen, 16 points, 7 rebounds. Keaton Wallace, 11 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals. Giovanni De Nicolao, 10 points, 5 rebounds.

Taking control

Just as the Mean Green pulled to within three with 11:51 remaining on a driving layup by Smart, the Roadrunners answered with one of their best stretches of play this season, outscoring the visitors 20-13 over the next six minutes.

The Roadrunners started to attack the basket, play after play, either getting layups or free throws. UTSA hit four straight layups at one juncture and then De Nicolao buried a three from the corner. When Jackson hit a free throw with 5:29 to play, UTSA had hiked the lead to 67-57.

Mounting a comeback

Not to be outdone, North Texas constructed a 14-4 run that tied the game, 71-71, with 2:40 remaining. Smart capped the streak by nailing a three from the top of the circle.


UTSA guard Keaton Wallace buries a three-pointer out of the corner in the first half Saturday against North Texas.

First-half highlights

Freshman Adokiye Iyaye energized fans with a three-pointer on the last play of the first half, lifting the Roadrunners to a 33-27 lead.

At intermission, Allen led UTSA in scoring with 9 points, and Keaton Wallace and Iyaye had 7. Woolridge had 8 and Duffy 7 for North Texas.


UTSA freshman Adokiye Iyaye scores a layup on a back cut in the first half against the North Texas Mean Green.

Notebook

UTSA broke a four-game losing streak to North Texas in the series, which stretched back over the past three seasons. Meaning, it was the first win over the in-state rivals for the current coaching staff and its core of veteran players. The Roadrunners’ last win against the Mean Green came on March 7, 2015, in a 69-68 victory at UTSA.

Hype is building for North Texas-UTSA showdown

When UTSA basketball players ran through drills in practice on Friday afternoon, they’d look up to see a television camera in their face.

It was at least the second time this week that a local TV station dispatched a crew to cover a workout.

Not a game, mind you. A practice. And not in March, either. In the second week of January.

Roadrunners coach Steve Henson said he welcomes the attention.

“Hey that’s important for our program,” he said.

It’s not surprising that the Roadrunners are starting to attract notice.

After all, first place in Conference USA is on the line Saturday at 3 p.m. when the surging North Texas Mean Green pay a visit to the UTSA Convocation Center.

North Texas is 16-1 and is riding an eight-game winning streak. Perhaps more compelling, UTSA is 9-7 with six victories in a row, after starting the season at 0-5.

“It’s no secret we didn’t start the season real well,” Henson said. “Our schedule was tough early. We weren’t playing great. But now we are. Nine (wins) out of 11 (games). Six in a row. We hope there’s some buzz around the program.”

Having North Texas in the house on a Saturday afternoon certainly helps.

Games between the two squads are usually pretty intriguing, anyway, but this year it’s different.

This year, North Texas is 4-0 and sitting atop the C-USA standings, while UTSA trails in second at 3-0.

UTSA guard Keaton Wallace said it would mean a lot on a number of levels to win and take over first place.

First, if the Roadrunners can win, they would tie a 30-year-old school record and would become only the second team in school history to open conference play at 4-0.

“That,” Wallace said, “would be big time.”

In addition, it would also feel good for players to beat an in-state rival that has won four in a row in the head-to-head series against the Roadrunners.

Last year, the Mean Green erased a 13-point deficit and beat the Roadrunners 72-71 at the Convocation Center.

Later, North Texas routed UTSA 80-62 at Denton, in the first game after Roadrunners guard Jhivvan Jackson was knocked out for the season with a knee injury.

The game in San Antonio stands out as the most emotional of the two.

At the end, with UTSA trailing by the eventual final score, UTSA’s Giovanni De Nicolao raced the length of the court on the dribble, stretched out for a layup in traffic and saw it skip off the rim.

“We know they got us last year,” Wallace said. “We expect them to come out hard and ready to play. We got to protect home court.”

Notable

Nick Allen hit career highs in both points (20) and three-pointers (four) against Rice Thursday night. De Nicolao’s 19 points were a season high. The Roadrunners hammered the Owls, 95-79, establishing team season highs in points, field goal percentage (49.3) and three-pointers made (12) against Division I competition.

North Texas survived a challenge from UTEP Thursday night in El Paso, winning 58-51. Redshirt freshman guard Umoja Gibson played well off the bench with 13 points and seven rebounds. Roosevelt Smart scored 13, Michael Miller had 11 and 6-foot-10 Zachary Simmons contributed 10 points and four rebounds.

Forward Nick Allen steps up on offense for streaking UTSA

Nick Allen. UTSA beat Southeastern Oklahoma State 70-67 on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Nick Allen has averaged 11.2 points on 55 percent shooting in UTSA’s last five games.

Winners of five games in a row, the UTSA Roadrunners continue to tweak their offensive execution in hopes of getting more players involved, and senior forward Nick Allen has stepped up to answer the call.

Allen has averaged 11.2 points on 55 percent shooting during the streak, leading into tonight’s Conference USA home test against the Rice Owls.

Highlighting UTSA’s longest streak in seven years, Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace have led the way, playing at a high level almost every night.

But Allen, a senior from Arizona, has emerged as a third-option threat by knocking down 23 shots in 42 attempts combined against Bethany, Kansas; Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Southeastern Oklahoma State and UTEP (twice).

It’s been a major change in the offense from earlier in the season when, at times, the Roadrunners seemed to rely too much on their two standouts.

“That goes back to our attention to detail, executing on the offensive side,” Allen said. “It’s not just, ‘Hey, this is what we’re looking for.’ You know, it’s like, ‘You got to run the plays correctly.’ And if you run them correctly, there’s a lot of options to score.”

Coming off two victories over the Miners to open conference play, UTSA continued work earlier this week on the offensive nitty gritty to prepare for home games tonight against Rice and Saturday against the North Texas Mean Green.

“We keep talking about getting sharper and getting better shots and limiting turnovers,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “Coming off two games in conference where we had 10 one night and 12 the next, it’s closer. Single digits would be fantastic.

“We got to all be on the same page what a good possession looks like.

“With scorers like Jhivvan and Keaton, there (are) going to be a lot of quick shots. But we also need good possessions where we get the ball side to side, get paint touches. We needed to spend a lot of time on that (this week).”

In other words, the Roadrunners are trying to expand their repertoire of threats.

For UTSA to win consistently, the team surely will need more offense from Allen, Byron Frohnen, Giovanni De Nicolao — who all start — and also from bench players like Adokiye Iyaye and Atem Bior.

In Allen’s opinion, the Roadrunners at times this season have seemed “funneled in on one” option at times. Now, he said, it seems as if the offensive sets are producing much more variety.

“We kind of let the offense breathe a little bit,” Allen said. “It’s opening up a lot of stuff for a lot of people. It’s good. I think that’s where it’s coming from.”

Notable

Allen’s increased production on offense may be related to simple physics. The 6-8 forward said he has trimmed down to 227 pounds — about eight pounds under his opening-day weight.

“I started off the season right around 235 and shaved a couple of pounds off,” Allen said. “I feel a little bit better. It’s weird, you know, I didn’t think I would notice it as much.

“But after shaving a little weight, I feel a little bit more mobile. I can move a little bit better now.”

UTSA wins its fifth straight, knocks off UTEP, 67-63

For the UTSA Roadrunners, an 0-5 start to the season is a thing of the past.

The Roadrunners won their fifth straight game and their second straight over UTEP in three days, downing the Miners 67-63 Saturday night in El Paso.

Guard Jhivvan Jackson has returned from inury to average 20.5 points per game this season. – Photo by Joe Alexander, Jan. 3 at UTSA.

Guard Jhivvan Jackson produced 24 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists for the Roadrunners, who rallied from a 10-point deficit in the final 17 minutes.

“We went to that zone (defense) that we had in our back pocket,” Jackson told the team’s radio broadcast. “We worked on it. We just kept moving around and made ’em uncomfortable, and they weren’t making shots, and we just executed on offense.”

UTSA improved to 2-0 in Conference USA competition and to 8-2 in its last 10 since opening the season with the five straight losses.

Jackson sat out the first three games of the year as he completed rehabilitation from a knee injury.

The sophomore from Puerto Rico has returned to average 20.5 points in 12 outings. He’s scored 20 or more in nine of his last 10 games.

Records

UTSA 8-7, 2-0
UTEP 5-8, 0-2

Notable

Keaton Wallace came alive in the second half with 11 of his 16 points. Wallace burned UTEP for 23 in a 75-60 victory Thursday night in San Antonio. Nick Allen, meanwhile, continued to play well with 14 points on 6 of 12 shooting. Byron Frohnen pulled down 13 rebounds.

Quotable

“It was a good win, to go on the road and find a way.” — UTSA coach Steve Henson.