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.

Wild times: UTSA outscores Marshall, 116-106, in OT

At one point Saturday night, the stars just didn’t seem to be aligned for UTSA coach Steve Henson to celebrate a happy birthday.

His team blew a four-point lead in the last eight seconds of regulation against the Marshall Thundering Herd.

But as it turned out, birthday No. 51 emerged as one for the books for Henson and the Roadrunners.

Keaton Wallace scored 14 of his career-high 45 points in overtime as UTSA knocked off Marshall, 116-106, in a Conference USA thriller at Huntington, West Virginia.

“Last game, coach got on us, so we knew we had to step up for him,” Wallace told a television reporter for Stadium College Basketball. “Today’s his birthday. We had to get a dub for coach.”

Two nights ago, Western Kentucky beat UTSA 96-88 in overtime to spoil a career-high 46-point effort from Roadrunners guard Jhivvan Jackson.

But on the back end of a memorable two-game road trip, Wallace broke the 40-point barrier for the first time in his career and Jackson scored 30, lifting the Roadrunners into a tie for second in the C-USA standings.

“Every time somebody asks me about Jhivvan, I talk about Keaton,” Henson told the television network. “Both those guys are doing great things for us this year. Keaton’s worked incredibly hard. He’s been special all year long.

“I’m not surprised that he would have a good game like that.

“It was good for our guys to gt that win after what happened to us on Thursday. The way it happened, it was pretty special for us.”

Old Dominion leads the C-USA at 8-3, followed by UTSA and North Texas at 7-3. UAB, Marshall and Western Kentucky are knotted at 6-4.

Records

UTSA 13-10, 7-3
Marshall 13-10, 6-4

Notable

The game featured two of the most dynamic backcourts in the C-USA — Wallace and Jackson for UTSA and C.J. Burks and Jon Elmore for Marshall. Burks scored 31 points and Elmore produced 29, including a four-point play to force the overtime. Elmore hit a three from the wing, got fouled by Atem Bior with 3.1 seconds left, and then followed with the game-tying free throw.

Quotable

“When we did not win in regulation, I was kicking myself over there,” Henson told UTSA’s radio broadcast. “Again, a couple of plays that we got to avoid. Plays we’ve got to make, to win in regulation … When it happens to you two times in three nights, it’s pretty hard to bounce back. I was really, really proud of the way they played really the whole second half, and especially overtime.”

And, finally …

Bior, a junior from Brisbane, Australia, produced his first career double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. He had eight defensive boards and four on the offensive end. He also had a steal and a blocked shot … UTSA snapped a string of three straight road losses, improving to 2-3 on the road in the C-USA … The Roadrunners are 10-3 in their last 13 games overall.

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 stuns Old Dominion with a miracle comeback, 74-73

UTSA players celebrate after time runs out in the Roadrunners' come-from-behind 74-73 victory over Old Dominion on Saturday at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA players celebrate after time runs out in the Roadrunners’ come-from-behind, 74-73 victory over Old Dominion on Saturday at the Convocation Center. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Trailing by 18 points with a little less than five minutes remaining Saturday afternoon, the UTSA Roadrunners appeared well on their way to a blowout loss at home against the rugged Old Dominion Monarchs.

As it turned out, appearances didn’t mean all that much on a magical day at the UTSA Convocation Center.

Keaton Wallace. UTSA came back from 18 points down to beat Old Dominion 74-73 Saturday at the UTSA Convocation Center.

Keaton Wallace scored a game-high 29 points with nine 3-pointers, including the game winner with 15 seconds remaining. – Photo by Joe Alexander.

The Roadrunners rallied with a miraculous 25-6 run in the final 4 minutes and 43 seconds to defeat the Monarchs, 74-73, seizing a share of the lead in Conference USA.

“I’m at a loss for words,” UTSA guard Keaton Wallace said. “That was a great team win.”

A steal by Byron Frohnen set up the winning play for UTSA.

It gave one last possession to the Roadrunners, who watched as Wallace brought the ball up and circled into the right corner.

From there, he launched an off-balance three-pointer that swished with 15 seconds remaining to account for the final score.

Old Dominion immediately pushed the ball to the other end, only to miss on three shot attempts to win the game.

After the last miss by Justice Kithcart, the horn sounded, prompting the crowd to erupt with a roar.

With fans standing and cheering, UTSA players rushed off the bench to celebrate the program’s largest comeback since officials started charting such things in 2006-07.

In the final 4:43, Old Dominion had the game under control, leading 67-49.

Nick Allen promptly hit a three for UTSA. But B.J. Stith sank a two, keeping the Monarchs comfortably in front, 69-52, with 3:44 remaining.

The lead didn’t last long. UTSA started to pressure with its defense and play faster on offense, nailing six more threes.

Jhivvan Jackson. UTSA came back from 18 points down to beat Old Dominion 74-73 Saturday at the UTSA Convocation Center.

Jhivvan Jackson scored 10 points in UTSA’s 25-6, game-ending burst. – Photo by Joe Alexander

They came roaring back to win, generating significant momentum in the C-USA title chase along the way.

Knocking off a team that had held the lead in the conference was significant. It elevated UTSA into a three-way tie for first with North Texas and UAB, with all three at 6-2.

Old Dominion dropped to second at 6-3.

“We needed to win a game like this,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “North Texas has a good record. But to this point, we haven’t beaten many of the real good teams … This was a big win for us, from that standpoint.

“You know, Old Dominion is one of the favorites for the league title. You know, long way to go. But, we’re in a good spot right now. We’re healthy. Chemistry is fantastic. Guys are embracing their roles. That gives us a chance to win every night.”

Records

Old Dominion 16-6, 6-3
UTSA 12-9, 6-2

Notable

The Roadrunners swept the homestand, knocking off Charlotte 88-43 on Thursday night and then defeating Old Dominion with the historic game-ending rally. UTSA has won 9 of its last 11 and 12 of 16 leading into next week’s road trip to Western Kentucky and Marshall. The Roadrunners have won eight in a row at home. Wallace tied a career high with nine three pointers.

Quotable

“You know, I’m not even really sure what happened.” — UTSA coach Steve Henson in his opening remarks to reporters.

“We actually practice that shot, fading to the baseline. I already knew it was going in.” — UTSA guard Jhivvan Jackson, on Keaton Wallace’s game winner.

Individuals

UTSA — Keaton Wallace, 29 points on 9 of 17 shooting, including 9 of 15 on three-pointers. Jhivvan Jackson, 21 points, 7 of 24 from the field, 4 rebounds, 5 assists. Nick Allen, 13 points on 5 of 9 shooting, three 3-pointers.

Old Dominion — B.J. Stith, 23 points, 12 rebounds. Ahmad Caver, 20 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists. Xavier Green, 17 points, 5 rebounds.


Guard Xavier Green drains a three-point shot early in the second half as the Old Dominion Monarchs start to pull away.

Grinding it out early

Riding the steady play of Stith and Caver, the Monarchs surged to a 40-36 lead on UTSA at halftime. Stith scored 17 points and Caver had 10 for Old Dominion. Much to the chagrin of the UTSA home crowd, the Monarchs aided their cause with 12 of 15 shooting at the free-throw line, including 8 of 9 by Stith. For UTSA, Jackson missed 11 shots from the field. But, fortunately for the Roadrunners, Wallace scored 17 in the half on five threes.

Falling behind

Old Dominion started to dominate the game after intermission. UTSA’s offense seemed stagnant, and ODU took advantage. In one stretch, the Monarchs outscored the Roadrunners 15-2, with point guard Ahmad Caver scoring seven of the points.

Mounting a comeback

With 4:43 remaining, Caver sank a jumper to give Old Dominion a seemingly insurmountable 67-49 lead.

From there, UTSA outscored the visitors 25-6 to the buzzer. During the run, the Roadrunners held the Monarchs to a field goal by Stith and four free throws. Fouled intentionally on most possessions, ODU made only 4 of 10 at the line down the stretch.

The Roadrunners, on the other end, were lighting it up with seven 3-point baskets. Wallace hit three of them, and Jackson and Allen hit two apiece. During the streak, Jackson scored 10 of his team’s points, with Wallace adding nine and Allen six.


Jackson hits the deck after his layup drew UTSA to within two with 32 seconds left.

Coming up big

Wallace was clutch in the last 90 seconds, hitting all three of his 3-pointers in that stretch. First, he nailed one that brought the Roadrunners to within five with 1:15 remaining. Next, he hit again with 42 seconds left to make it a three-point game.

On the other end, Stith answered with one of two free throws, giving Old Dominion a 73-69 edge wth 37 seconds left. Five seconds later, Jackson flashed to the basket, received a pass from Byron Frohnen and sank a twisting layup to pull the Roadrunners within 73-71.

At that point, Frohnen made another big play, forcing a Stith turnover, which set up Wallace’s game-ending dramatics. Wallace got to the corner and swished it for the game’s final points. On the other end, Xavier Green, Stith and Kithcart misfired for Old Dominion, giving the win to UTSA.


Emotions overflow on the UTSA bench and throughout the Convocation Center at the end of Saturday’s game. After Wallace hits out of the corner for the go-ahead basket, Old Dominion misses three times in the last 15 seconds, setting off a wild celebration.

Pride on the line as UTSA hosts first-place Old Dominion


Old Dominion players stage a dunking exhibition in warmups for today’s game at UTSA.

The Old Dominion Monarchs walloped the UTSA Roadrunners 100-62 a year ago in Norfolk, Virginia.

It’s still a painful memory for the Roadrunners, who remember that ODU guard B.J. Stith exploded for 28 of his game-high 36 points before halftime.

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

UTSA sophomore Keaton Wallace averages 18.8 points per game on the season but is scoring 19.7 in conference. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The Monarchs led by 16 at intermission, broke out to a 29-point lead with 13 minutes remaining and then polished off a 38-point victory when a freshman, Marquis Godwin, hit a three-pointer with a minute remaining.

“That was a bad game for us,” UTSA guard Keaton Wallace said. “I remember that dude got hot on us. (B.J.) Stith ended up getting hot on us, and it was hard for us to come back after that, so we owe them.”

Payback is only part of the motivation today as the Roadrunners host the Monarchs at 3 p.m. at the Convocation Center.

First place in Conference USA is also at stake.

“You know, we didn’t specifically talk to our players about it being for a piece of the lead,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “It’s a big game for a lot of reasons. Our guys respect Old Dominion. They’ve been a terrific program.”

Old Dominion is in first in the C-USA standings at 6-2, followed by UTSA, North Texas, Marshall and UAB, all tied at 5-2.

On Thursday night, the Roadrunners rolled to an 88-43 home victory over the Charlotte 49ers, while the Monarchs won on the road, 50-48, over the UTEP Miners.

Leading by 11 points with nine minutes lef, the Monarchs scrambled to hold off the Miners with two defensive stops in the final minute.

Coach Steve Henson (left) and assistant Mike Peck have led UTSA into a tie for second place in Conference USA. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Today, they’ll show up at the Convocation Center with a swagger, led by Stith and Ahmad Caver, not to mention a deep pool of other quality athletes.

“You know, they do a good job,” Henson said Friday afternoon. “They’ve got an identity. They keep guys in their system. They have veteran guys. (They’re a) great defensive team, (with) two superstars.”

That being said, Henson acknowledged that the Roadrunners are feeling good, without too many nagging injuries and are playing with confidence.

“So, it’ll be exciting to see our guys respond,” he said.

This year, the C-USA’s schedule is different.

On Feb. 16, the conference will divide the 14 teams into three groups based on the standings, with teams in each tier, or pod, playing round robin to determine the final seedings for the C-USA tournament.

Wallace said he is keeping an eye on the standings every day.

“I’m trying to get that top five for the top-five pod,” he said, “so we can play for first.”

C-USA standings

Old Dominion 6-2, 16-5
North Texas 5-2, 17-3
UAB 5-2, 13-7
Marshall 5-2, 12-8
UTSA 5-2, 11-9
FIU 4-3, 13-7
WKU 4-3, 11-9
LA Tech 4-4, 14-7
Rice 3-4, 8-12
SouthernMiss 3-5, 11-9
FAU 2-5, 11-9
MiddleTenn 2-5, 5-15
Charlotte 2-6, 5-14
UTEP 1-6, 6-12

Today’s games

Old Dominion at UTSA, 3 p.m.
WKU at LA Tech, 4 p.m.
Marshall at Southern Miss, 4 p.m.
Middle Tennessee at North Texas, 5 p.m.
FAU at FIU, 6 p.m.
UAB at Rice, 7 p.m.
Charlotte at UTEP, 8 p.m.

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.”

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.

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.”