UTSA rolls past UTEP, 71-58, in C-USA tournament

Steve Henson on Wednesday morning proudly accepted the Conference USA’s Gene Bartow Coach of the Year Award.

By Wednesday night, he felt even better after his UTSA Roadrunners defeated UTEP 71-58 in the opening round of the C-USA tournament.

“Just proud of our guys,” Henson told the team’s radio broadcast. “The award today was very nice. But it’s really a reflection of what these guys have done and the progress we’ve made and the direction we’re heading.”

The tournament is being held for the first time in the Ford Center at the Star, in Frisco.

With the victory, fifth-seeded UTSA (19-13) advanced to Thursday’s quarterfinals against the No. 4 Marshall Thundering Herd (21-10).

The setting

UTSA entered the postseason with 18 victories, the most for the team in six years.

In the days leading into the tournament, Henson, along with players Jhivvan Jackson, Keaton Wallace and Deon Lyle had pulled down major awards from the C-USA.

But UTSA shrugged off the hype and defeated UTEP for the third time this season.

“I know our younger guys got some awards (earlier in the week),” Henson said. “But we need to come in here and keep winning.”

The stars

Lyle, the sixth man of the year in the conference, started for the third straight game in the absence of Jackson, who is out with a knee injury.

He led the Roadrunners with 18 points, including 15 in the second half.

UTSA forward Byron Frohnen had 14 points and 14 rebounds, including 13 points in the first half and nine boards after intermission.

The nitty gritty

UTSA’s defense flustered UTEP again, holding the Miners to less than 40 percent from the field for the third time this season.

UTEP was 22 of 60 from the field for 36.7 percent. Evan Gilyard led the Miners with 29 points.

He hit 10 of 25 shots and 3 of 11 from three.

UTEP took a 2-0 lead on a jumper by Paul Thomas, but UTSA scored seven straight points and never trailed again.

The Roadunners hiked the lead to 10 at halftime and expanded it to 17 with 9:10 remaining.

“It’s hard to beat a team three times in a row,” UTSA forward Nick Allen said. “I’m glad we got that accomplished.”

The next challenge

UTSA and Marshall play similar styles. Both like to shoot the three.

The Roadrunners defeated the Thundering Herd 81-77 on Feb. 1 in San Antonio.

But Marshall has won seven of its last nine, including a 76-67 victory at Middle Tennessee on Saturday, the final day of the regular season.

UTSA beats UTEP for first win in El Paso since 2011

Forward Deon Lyle scored 18 points Saturday night, and UTSA held off the UTEP Miners, 63-59, for the program’s first victory in El Paso since 2011.

In a sloppy game with poor shooting by both teams, Lyle hit five 3-point baskets, allowing UTSA to sweep UTEP 2-0 for the first time in five seasons of Conference USA play.

The Roadrunners (14-11, 7-5) have won four straight and five of their last six to move into a tie for fifth in the C-USA.

Bewitched by 47 percent shooting from the free-throw line, the Miners (7-17, 2-10) lost their sixth in a row.

UTSA won in spite of shooting 39 percent from the field and 50 percent at the free-throw line (11 of 22).

“Coach said it was going to be ugly,” UTSA forward Nick Allen said on the team’s radio broadcast.

Added Allen: “It’s hard to come in here and win, you know, it’s a historical place, with a lot of pride.

“There’s a lot of support behind (the program).

“So, we knew it was going to be hard. We knew it was going to be chippy. But we got it done.”

Frustrating the home fans, UTEP hit only 18 of 50 from the field (for 36 percent) and 16 of 34 at the line.

UTSA coach Steve Henson said the Roadrunners “made it ugly” in the first half with their own lack of execution.

“A lot of stuff going on was our own fault,” the coach said. “(But) we kind of withstood it and responded well there at some point … and had a decent run.

“So many things to go back and look at. So many mistakes down the stretch (at the end of the game).

“Great learning opportunities. You know, we got some young guys out there and (we) made some mistakes, but it’s a lot better to learn from those when you win.”

The Roadrunners led by eight with 55 seconds left and nearly let the game get away from them.

After UTEP’s Isaiah Osborne made two free throws and missed a third with nine seconds left, the Miners had trimmed the lead to two.

Fortunately for UTSA, guard Giovanni De Nicolao put the game away with two free throws with five seconds remaining.

After De Nicolao made the first one, UTEP called time to try to ice him.

But after the break, the sophomore from Italy stepped up and hit the second one, as well, sealing the victory and improving UTSA’s record in C-USA road games to 3-2.

Forward Byron Frohnen produced 12 points and 7 rebounds for the Roadrunners. Allen had 9 points and 13 boards, as UTSA dominated on the glass, 48-35.

De Nicolao and Jhivvan Jackson had 10 points apiece. Jackson, the fifth leading freshman scorer in the nation, was held nine under his scoring average.

He hit 3 of 12 from the field, but Jackson also contributed nine rebounds and had a steal and a break-away layup that gave UTSA a 57-51 lead with 3:24 remaining.

For UTEP, center Matt Willms scored 12 and Paul Thomas and Kobe Magee, a freshman guard from Brandeis, both had 11.

UTSA plays at UTEP looking for a 2-0 series sweep

The surging UTSA Roadrunners will start a three-game Conference USA road swing Saturday night in El Paso against UTEP.

UTSA (13-11, 6-5) and UTEP (7-16, 2-9) will meet at the Haskins Center in a game that starts at 8 p.m. central time.

If the Roadrunners win, they would complete a two-game, regular-season sweep of the Miners for the first time in five seasons of UTSA’s membership in the C-USA.

UTSA beat UTEP 65-61 in San Antonio on Jan. 20.

A victory also would keep alive hopes for the Roadrunners to claim a top-four finish in the C-USA standings, which would be rewarded with a first-round bye in the postseason tournament.

Currently, Middle Tennessee leads the conference at 11-1, followed by Old Dominion and Western Kentucky at 9-2 and Marshall and North Texas at 7-4.

After winning three straight, UTSA is in sixth place at 6-5, while Louisiana Tech and Alabama-Birmingham are tied for seventh at 6-6.

Freshman guard Jhivvan Jackson has led the Roadrunners in wins over UAB, Marshall and Western Kentucky, averaging 23 points per game during the streak.

The Roadrunners play on the road next week at Old Dominion and Charlotte.

UTSA notes

UTEP swept two games against UTSA in both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons.

UTSA split in each of the past two years, winning at home and losing on the road.

All time, UTSA is 4-10 overall against UTEP and 1-7 in El Paso.

The Roadrunners’ one and only victory over the Miners at the Haskins Center came on Nov. 11, 2011.

On that night, UTSA guard Michael Hale III produced 12 points, 3 assists and 3 steals as the Roadrunners won the season opener for both teams, 73-64.

Sophomore guard Giovanni De Nicolao drives and twists a reverse layup off the glass in UTSA’s 65-61 victory over UTEP on Jan. 20.