Freshman Jhivvan Jackson scored 30 points Saturday as the UTSA Roadrunners turned back the Charlotte 49ers, 97-89, in overtime.
In the game played at Charlotte, North Carolina, UTSA’s all-time freshman scoring leader reached the 30-point mark for the third time this season.
He made 11 of 22 shots from the field and, for good measure, he also nailed 4 of 12 from three-point distance.
Freshman Keaton Wallace scored 14 of his 17 points in the first half for the Roadrunners, who barely escaped against the last-place team in Conference USA.
Charlotte has lost 12 straight. UTSA, meanwhile, bounced back from Thursday night’s 100-62 loss at Old Dominion.
The Roadrunners are 6-2 in their last eight.
With the game on the line, Jackson nailed two straight jumpers in the final 25 seconds of regulation.
After Jackson hit the first one, guard Andrien White completed a three-point play to give Charlotte an 84-82 lead.
With the clock ticking under 10 seconds, UTSA advanced the ball and found Jackson, who hit the tying shot with 2.9 ticks left.
Jon Davis missed the potential game winner off the front of the rim at the regulation buzzer.
Jackson scored seven points in the extra period to give him 30 for the game and 518 for the season.
Devin Brown held the UTSA freshman record of 483 points until Jackson surpassed it Thursday night at Old Dominion.
In the overtime against Charlotte, he showed that he can also do more than score.
The former three-time Puerto Rican junior national team member created opportunities for teammates.
Two of Jackson’s late drives to the bucket led directly to four points, on a layup and two free throws, by Byron Frohnen.
UTSA 15-12, 8-6
Charlotte 5-20, 1-13
“Exactly what I expected. I thought they’d be really, really good and that it’d be a fight the whole way, and it was. They have good players. They’re just a little snake-bitten. They can’t quite finish ’em right now. They have a couple of terrific guards. It was tough.” — UTSA coach Steve Henson.
Junior guard Andrien White produced 25 points, six rebounds and four assists. Backcourt mate Jon Davis had 18 points and eight assists.
Southern Miss at UTSA, 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 22
Louisiana Tech at UTSA, 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 24
UTSA coach Steve Henson looks forward to playing at last-place Charlotte on Saturday night and trying to find a spark.
Trying to start a new winning streak. Trying anything to forget about Thursday night in Norfolk, Virginia.
After B.J. Stith and the Old Dominion Monarchs dominated in a 100-62 victory, Henson seemed to have a hard time shaking the feeling of his team’s worst loss of the season.
“We can’t let this destroy what we’ve done the last few weeks,” Henson said on the team’s radio broadcast. “We’ve been doing good things. We just got man-handled tonight.
“It was grown men just taking us to school. We didn’t have much response to it.”
Stith produced a career-high 36 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for the Monarchs, who won their fourth in a row.
In winning their eighth game out of nine, Old Dominion improved to 20-5 overall and 11-2 in Conference USA.
Winners of four straight coming in, UTSA fell to 14-12 and 7-6.
The 38-point margin of defeat eclipsed a 24-point loss that UTSA suffered at Middle Tennessee on Jan. 25 as the worst of the season.
Stith made an early statement, hitting a three-pointer 20 seconds into the game and then scoring 28 by halftime.
By that time, the Monarchs were in charge, 52-36.
“He was just fantastic in the first half,” Henson said. “He was pretty good overall. He just had a real good rhythm going and got hot and made threes. Got to the free-throw line. Did a little bit of everything.”
Jackson breaks UTSA freshman record
UTSA guard Jhivvan Jackson moved up to No. 1 in the UTSA record books for points scored by a freshman, surpassing Devin Brown.
Jackson pumped in 22, giving him 488 for the season.
Brown, who later played in the NBA and won a championship ring with the Spurs, scored 483 for the Roadrunners in 1998-99.
Championship teams share a few common characteristics.
They play with consistent aggression and never allow an opponent to think they can win.
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders used that formula to dominate the UTSA Roadrunners 75-51 Thursday night in Conference USA men’s basketball.
In the game played at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, the Blue Raiders buried the Roadrunners with a 40-24 second half.
“They just took it right to us,” UTSA coach Steve Henson told the team’s radio broadcast. “They wore on us and wore on us and dominated the glass, and … we just couldn’t make…we just didn’t compete offensively.
“We just don’t compete enough. We just settle for shots. When it’s hard, we don’t know how to respond, and it was hard.”
After representing the C-USA at the NCAA tournament two years in a row, the Blue Raiders showed why they are projected to make it three straight.
Forwards Nick King and Brandon Walters had their way, with King scoring a game-high 22 points and Walters grabbing 14 rebounds.
Middle Tennessee (15-5, 7-1) also enjoyed a strong showing from guard Antwain Johnson, who scored 15.
Jhivvan Jackson scored 17, but nobody else hit double figures as UTSA (10-11, 3-5) recorded its fewest points in a game this season.
Henson said he liked how his players protected the ball in the first half, when they led briefly 14-11 and went into the dressing room down only 35-27.
“Other than that, offensively, you got to drive it down in there and expect to finish,” Henson said. “We’re taking jump shots. I think guys shooting ’em are expecting ’em to go in. It’s just easier to let it fly.
“We got to find a better balance between having some offensive freedom and taking bad shots. We got to drive it. We don’t get to the free throw line. We got to get on the attack. We got to … get in the paint and finish around the rim.”
UTSA hit 4 of its first 8 from 3-point range and then went cold, hitting only 3 of 16 the rest of the way.
The Blue Raiders held the Roadrunners to 21 of 61 from the field overall for 34 percent.
“I thought our guys started the game with a terrific mindset,” Henson said. “I thought we were fighting defensively. We did some really good things from the scouting report.
“We took away some of their strengths. We did a good job on (guard Giddy) Potts all night. We paid extra attention to him. But (with) their style, their toughness, just wore on us, just kept chipping away at us.
“Kind of shows us how far we’ve got to go to become a good ball club.”
UTSA will move on to play at Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday night. UAB broke a two-game losing streak by defeating UTEP 85-78 Thursday.
Lewis Sullivan scored 19 as the Blazers (14-7, 5-3) shot 55.2 percent from the field.
UTSA freshmen Jhivvan Jackson drives for two against Florida International
For nearly a week after Hurricane Maria pounded Jhivvan Jackson’s native Puerto Rico, he may have been one of the most stressed-out freshmen in the UTSA athletic department, if not on the entire campus.
Jhivvan Jackson (left) and his grandfather, veteran coach Flor Melendez
The first month of the fall semester in September is hectic for anyone in college. But for Jackson, a basketball prodigy who grew up in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, it was nerve-wracking.
Back at home where he once spent carefree days shooting hoops on his grandfather’s backyard court, members of his family – including his mother and an older brother – did their best to hunker down and weather the Category 5 storm that hit the island on Sept. 20.
For five days after 150-mph wind and rain strafed the island, Jackson tried unsuccessfully to find out what had happened. Over and over again, he’d call and leave a message on voice mail.
“I couldn’t get through for about a week,” Jackson said, “because there was no (phone) service. I just believed. I just knew everything was going to be good.”
Finally, on the fifth day, his phone buzzed with the good news he was praying for. His mother was calling to tell him that everyone was OK.
“It just relieved all the stress I had,” Jackson said. “It was stressful.”
All of which makes Jackson’s ensuing rise in stature as one of the top freshmen in the nation this season all the more remarkable.
As UTSA prepares to play a 2 p.m. home game today against Florida Atlantic, Jackson has emerged as the seventh leading freshman scorer in NCAA Division I.
Only the likes of Trae Young at Oklahoma, Marvin Bagley III of Duke and Collin Sexton of Alabama rank ahead of Jackson, who leads the Roadrunners with 18.4 points per game.
A proud grandfather’s support
Veteran Puerto Rico basketball coach Flor Melendez, who is Jackson’s proud grandfather, said it isn’t a surprise to him that his grandson could set aside the family’s storm-related concerns to focus on school and basketball.
“It’s not a surprise for me,” Melendez said after a recent practice at the Convocation Center. “Jhivvan start to play at six years old. Practice. Practice. Six, seven, eight years old. Every day, working hard. Shot. Shot. Ball handling. Behind my house, on the court, I see him. Shot. Shot.”
Jackson’s grandfather has a long track record of success in the sport.
According to an online bio confirmed through the FIBA communications office, he played for the Puerto Rican national team in the 1968 Olympics.
Later, after a pro career, Melendez started coaching in the late 1970s and coached national teams for Puerto Rico, Argentina and Panama, along with pro teams in Spain and Venezuela.
In Spain, in the late 1980s, he said he coached former Spurs great George Gervin for TDK Manresa.
In 2004, Melendez served as an assistant coach for the Puerto Rican team that defeated the Tim Duncan-led U.S. squad at the Athens Olympics.
Jackson knows him more on a personal level, as the man who put up the basketball court behind his Bayamon home.
It became a haven where Jackson and his older brother, Jalen, would play for hours on end as kids.
Later, both brothers moved to the Dallas area to live with their father, Leroy Jackson, a Panamanian who played in the early 1990s at Oregon State.
Signing with UTSA
Jhivvan Jackson, a 6-foot combo guard, enjoyed a standout four-year career at Euless Trinity High School through 2017.
After a single recruiting visit, he signed with UTSA coach Steve Henson in early signing period at the start of his senior season.
“He just said he knew it’s where he wanted to be,” said his mother, Yanira Melendez.
By the next summer, Jackson reported to summer workouts at UTSA., ready to go to work.
Now, about halfway through his first season with the Roadrunners, he has notched two 30-point games and six others in the 20s, all while shooting 42.6 percent from the field and 36.7 percent from three-point range.
Henson said he is surprised with his young combo-guard’s efficiency.
“Big scorers (from high school) usually come in and struggle with their percentages,” Henson said. “They find a way to get it in the hole. But it takes more shots to do it. With Jhivvan, he’s hanging in there at a very high level.”
Jackson, who plays off the bench, said he didn’t know he was the No. 7 freshman scorer in the NCAA.
“It really just comes down to how much my teammates and my coaches trust me with the ball and give me the right to make plays” he said. “They trust me to do that.
“That’s really what I’m doing. Trying to win as many games as possible for this team. Just, making the right play and making everyone better.”
UTSA has lost two in a row, including a 79-76 setback at home Thursday night against Florida International.
Jackson likely won’t let it get him down for too long.
Weathering the storm
After all, he comes from a basketball family that knows how to fight through adversity.
Last fall, his brother and his grandfather braved the hurricane in Bayamon by wading into thigh-deep water in front of the house to unclog debris from the sewer drains in the road.
“They both had to be tied together with ropes so that the current wouldn’t get ‘em,” Jackson said. “The current (in the water), the wind, it was bad.”
How did they know to take such action?
“Just years of experience,” Jackson said, matter of factly. “There’s a lot of hurricanes that come through Puerto Rico.”
Only recently has electrical power been restored at his grandfather’s home after one of the most intense storms in history.
“In the center of the island, they probably won’t get power for six months,” Jackson said. “Maybe a year. It’s crazy.”
Asked if the delay in service makes him mad, he said it does.
“Of course, but you always got to believe in the man on top,” the UTSA freshman said. “(God), he got us. He looking over us. All we can do is pray and hope things get better. That’s how things are now.
“Things are getting better in Puerto Rico, and I’m happy for that. People are starting to get power, most people.”
Jhivvan Jackson hits a step-back three against FIU
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
Most UTSA students have left campus for a holiday break between the fall and spring semesters.
In that regard, it rated as a mild surprise Thursday night to see a season-high crowd of 1,163 fans turn out for the men’s basketball team’s Conference USA opener against the Rice Owls.
What wasn’t surprising was that the Roadrunners played well again. That is getting to be a trend, especially at home, under second-year coach Steve Henson.
After UTSA beat Rice 79-66 and improved to 8-6 on the season, including 6-0 in the Convocation Center, the coach didn’t try to stamp out speculation that he is feeling a certain “mojo” working in his favor.
“I hope so,” Henson said, smiling. “I hope so. You know, we won a lot of ball games in here last year. Winning percentage is good. Our guys play with a lot of confidence at home.”
UTSA is now 17-3 at home under Henson since he took over in 2016.
“You walk out and see the band, hear the band, then see a good crowd and it gives us more energy,” the coach said. “I know our guys appreciate it, and I appreciate it.”
Fans are starting to appreciate the home team, as well. UTSA handled slumping Rice (3-11) with relative ease.
As the Roadrunners held the Owls to 39.2 percent shooting from the field, they also produced a balanced offense, with 11 players scoring.
Freshman guard Jhivvan Jackson led the way with 20 points.
For the fifth straight game, UTSA hit 10 or more 3-pointers. The Roadrunners sank 12 of them, including five by Jackson.
“It’s a fun team to watch,” Henson said. “People that haven’t seen it yet need to come check it out, because we’re going to play as fast as we can. Our guys are going to shoot threes.
“Our guys are going to play very, very free. We won’t play anybody all year that our game plan is to slow it down. That’s new to me in some regards. But we got the people to do it.
“We’re going to play fast. We’re going to shoot threes. I think we’re a fun team to watch.”
UTSA broke open a close game with a 17-3 outburst over a five-minute span early in the second half.
By the time the dust settled, Rice was down 21. The Owls, under first-year coach Scott Pera, never really recovered.
Only a hail of 3-pointers by the Owls in the last few minutes allowed the game to get as close as it did.
Jackson said UTSA needs to build on the defensive performance leading into Saturday’s home game against North Texas.
“We got to get better on the boards,” he said. “We just got to keep working on defense, like we did today, and grab rebounds.”
Employing a zone defense throughout, Rice succeeded in slowing down UTSA at times.
But the Roadrunners, averaging 87 points coming in, were never really fazed.
“They definitely slowed us in the first half, in the beginning, a little bit,” Jackson said.
“(They slowed us) until we got the groove and we started moving the ball, making extra passes.
“Then, after that, we just kept making the right plays.”
Roosevelt Smart scored 29 points Thursday night as North Texas won its C-USA opener at UTEP, 63-62.
Smart hit 9 of 13 from the field for North Texas (8-6), while UTEP (5-8) was led by Keith Frazier with 13 points.
UTSA point guard Giovanni De Nicolao drives to the bucket Thursday night in the first half against Rice. Video: thejbreplay.com