Forward Nick Allen scores on a driving layup with 2:02 remaining to give UTSA an eight-point lead.
UTSA rallied in a home playoff game for its 20th victory of the season Wednesday night, claiming a 76-69 decision over Lamar in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament.
Playing in front of an announced 1,012 at the Convocation Center, the Roadrunners (20-14) fell behind by eight in the first half before they found a rhythm in their game.
By the second half, they started to roll, playing tough defense, moving the ball on offense and gradually wearing down the Cardinals (19-14) of the Southland Conference.
With the victory, UTSA claimed its first 20-win season in seven years. The team also earned another CIT game at home.
Officials announced that the Roadrunners from Conference USA would play in the tournament’s quarterfinals at the Convocation Center on March 22. The opponent will be announced in coming days.
“It feels really good, really good,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “I’m happy for our guys. They earned the right to play in this event, and they came out and fought really hard.
“You know, it wasn’t easy in the first half. Just hangin’ and hangin,’ trying to stay in there, and they did.
“They’re just a good team. Lamar is tough and physical. It wasn’t easy but we hung in there and popped it open a little bit in the second half.”
UTSA forward Deon Lyle hits a three late in the first half against Lamar.
UTSA — Deon Lyle, 16 points, including four three-pointers, eight rebounds. Giovanni De Nicolao, 14 points, including 10 in the second half, six assists.
Nick Allen, 13 points, 11 in the second half. Byron Frohnen, 11 points, 5 of 6 shooting.
Lamar — Nick Garth, 16 points, four three-pointers. Josh Nzeakor, 13 points, nine rebounds. Joey Frenchwood, 13 points. Colton Weisbrod, 12 points, 11 rebounds.
Visiting Lamar held UTSA to 38 percent shooting in seizing a 33-31 lead at intermission.
Meanwhile, Lyle scored 14 points to keep the Roadrunners in contention, hitting four three-pointers in the half.
Lamar featured a more balanced attack with Garth, Nzeakor and Weisbrod scoring six points apiece.
Playing man-to-man defense primarily, Lamar limited UTSA to only 17 points in the first 15 minutes.
A three-pointer by Cardinals guard Frenchwood lifted the visitors to a 25-17 lead with 5:20 remaining.
A turning point
From there, Lyle sparked a UTSA rally.
He scored 11 points, including three shots from beyond the arc, lifting UTSA back into contention.
“It’s not the first time he’s done that on the year,” Henson said. “You know, there’s times we’re going along and don’t have much going on the offensive end and he just jumps up and knocks down a couple of threes.
“We needed those, for sure.”
UTSA’s defense picks up intensity early in the second half as forward Nick Allen switches off his man to contest a jumper.
UTSA emerged in the second half shooting the ball well, connecting on five of its first 11 attempts.
The Roadrunners took a 45-44 lead on De Nicolao’s three from the top of the key with 13:03 remaining.
Moments later, Garth tied the game at the free throw line.
But UTSA retaliated with Frohnen and De Nicolao scoring inside, and then Keaton Wallace connected on a long three for a 7-0 run over 65 seconds.
As a result, the crowd was in a roar as the Roadrunners led 53-46 with 11 minutes to play.
Lamar answered with a 12-7 run of its own that included two threes by Garth, and with 4:23 remaining, the Cardinals were within two at 60-58.
But De Nicolao banked in a three and Allen scored in the paint to push the Roadrunners ahead by seven.
Lamar got no closer than five the rest of the way.
UTSA’s Giovanni De Nicolao sets up the offense in the first half, passing to the wing for George Willborn III, who drives hard and dishes to Byron Frohnen for the layup.
UTSA, in its 37th year of basketball, registered only its second win in a postseason setting outside of conference tournament play.
The first such victory came in 2010-11, when the Roadrunners defeated Alabama State in the NCAA tournament’s round of 68.
UTSA won its 12th home game of the season and its 23rd in two years under Henson.
The dream scenario
De Nicolao, a sophomore point guard from Italy, said he thinks the Convocation Center needs to be re-decorated.
With a championship banner.
“We want to win this tournament right now, because, honestly, we want to have a (banner) somewhere — right there,” said De Nicolao, pointing to the arena rafters. “I’ve always said that.
“This year is an opportunity, and next year, I think, we’re going to have a bigger one.”