Middle Tennessee defense dominates UTSA, 75-51

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.

C-USA road test: UTSA takes on Middle Tennessee

UTSA forward Kendell Ramlal rises up to dunk off a pass from Byron Frohnen in last Saturday’s 65-61 victory over UTEP in San Antonio.

The UTSA Roadrunners have emerged with a few of their better performances this season on big stages.

They stayed with the Oklahoma Sooners well into the second half in Norman.

They battled the Nebraska Cornhuskers with explosive offense into the last few minutes.

The Roadrunners will need another strong effort Thursday night in a Conference USA test against the defending champion Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders.

Middle Tennessee (14-5, 6-1) and UTSA (10-10, 3-4) are set to play at the Murphy Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Following back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, the Kermit Davis-coached Blue Raiders are averaging 6,118 fans, second in the C-USA only to UTEP.

They’re stacked with talent again, as evidenced by victories against Vanderbilt and Ole Miss in non-conference, not to mention a 66-62 victory last Saturday at Western Kentucky in conference play.

The Roadrunners will have their hands full with the C-USA co-leaders, who feature the likes of Nick King, Giddy Potts and Brandon Walters.

UTSA’s Keaton Wallace shakes a defender to hit a first-half three against UTEP.

UTSA needs to rediscover that winning feeling

UTSA guard Austin Karrer knocks down a three from the corner last Saturday against Florida Atlantic.

Whatever happened to the free-wheeling, fun-loving, high-scoring UTSA Roadrunners?

You know, the team that started the season 8-6 and 1-0 in Conference USA?

Well, that’s a good question, considering that UTSA (9-10, 2-4) now faces a pivotal home-game test Saturday night against the UTEP Miners.

It seems weird to call any game in mid-January as pivotal or critical.

But with UTSA slumping so badly, and with state-rival UTEP (7-11, 2-4) in the house threatening to pile on the misery, it certainly has that feel.

To recap recent events, UTSA has lost three in a row and four of five.

During that skid, the Roadrunners have also lost three straight at home by a combined total of eight points.

As UTSA coach Steve Henson said following the team’s last game, a 73-69 loss to Florida Atlantic, the Roadrunners need to find some answers fast “because it doesn’t get any easier.”

On Saturday, UTEP comes in with its own track record of adversity, having undergone a mid-season coaching change and a spate of injuries.

So, for those reasons alone, the Roadrunners can’t afford another letdown at home.

Especially against the Miners, who always show up at the Convocation Center with some of their own supportive fans.

This time, though, UTSA also needs to play well because of what comes next.

Namely, four straight games against teams regarded as the most talented in the conference.

Next week, the Roadrunners hit the road to play Middle Tennessee and Alabama-Birmingham.

After that, they return home to face Marshall and Western Kentucky.

By the time that set of challenges ends on Feb. 3, only seven games remain before the C-USA tournament.

Only two teams out of 14 in the C-USA do not make the tournament, which means it’s nearly inconceivable that UTSA would be left at home when the conference congregates in Frisco from March 7-10.

But the more games a team can win between now and then, obviously, the higher seed it can expect.

And with the higher seed comes an easier path, theoretically, to the tournament title.

Making a run for the C-USA trophy and the NCAA automatic bid, presumably, remains as the long-term goal for the Roadrunners.

All the more reason for UTSA to summon some urgency, to play well for the home fans, to rediscover that winning feeling.

A pivotal game in January?

In this case, I’d say, yes.

UTSA freshman guard Jhivvan Jackson hits from long distance against FAU. Jackson scored 28 on the Owls, boosting his scoring average to 18.9.

UTSA coach Steve Henson: ‘We’re searching’

Senior guard Gerdarius Troutman hits a three with nine seconds left to give Florida Atlantic the lead.

UTSA coach Steve Henson admitted Saturday afternoon that his team is searching for an answer in the wake of a 73-69 home loss to Florida Atlantic.

The Roadrunners have lost three in a row and four of their last five.

“We’re just not playing right,” the coach said. “We’re not playing well enough, not together enough. Not tough enough, the things that we’re always talking about.

“Not playing hard enough on the defensive end of the floor, and the ball’s not moving the way it was earlier in the year.

“We’re searching. We’re searching, and we got to figure it out fast because it doesn’t get any easier from here.”

Florida Alantic (8-9, 2-3 in Conference USA) beat UTSA at the end with a low-post offensive attack led by 7-foot center Ronald Delph.

With the game tied 61-61, the Roadrunners (9-10, 2-4) couldn’t stop Delph in the paint as he scored seven points in a key stretch.

Delph hit three free throws and two shots in close to give the Owls a 68-66 advantage with 1:33 remaining.

From there, UTSA regained the lead by one when freshman Jhivvan Jackson buried a three from the corner.

But in the final seconds, the Owls went up 71-69 when Gerdarius Troutman knocked down a wide-open trey from the wing, off an assist from Anthony Adger.

With time running out, UTSA point guard Giovanni De Nicolao turned it over on the dribble trying to take it to the basket, forcing the Roadrunners to foul.

Troutman hit two free throws with three seconds left for the final points. He led the Owls with 19 for the game.

Three other FAU players finished in double figures, including Delph (15), Justin Massey (14) and Jailyn Ingram (13).

UTSA sophomore forward Byron Frohnen works his way inside for a layup off a miss by George Willborn III.

What has happened to the UTSA offense?

In two games at home this week, the Roadrunners finished with sub-40 percent shooting from the field.

Against Florida Atlantic, the Roadrunners went cold in the second half with 32.1 percent shooting, finishing at 37.1 for the game.

Freshman guard Keaton Wallace and junior forward Deon Lyle, two mainstays of the Roadrunners’ attack, were off the mark against Florida Atlantic.

The two combined for 2 of 14 from the field.

After starting the season with three weekly honors as C-USA Freshman of the Week, Wallace has fallen into an extended slump.

The 6-foot-3 lefty hit 2 of 10 against the Owls to make him 16 of 60 over his last six games.

Freshman Jhivvan Jackson played one of his better games of the year in defeat.

He scored 28 points. Jackson knocked down 8 of 15 from the field, 4 of 8 from three and 8 of 9 from the line.

UTSA leads Florida Atlantic 36-33 at intermission Saturday afternoon.

The Roadrunners rallied at the end of the half by hitting five of their last seven shots.

UTSA’s last bucket was emblematic of how hard it had to work to get a shot against FAU’s defense.

Moving without the ball, Jhivvan Jackson (see No. 2 in the video above) finally gets an open look and buries it.

Guard George Willborn III is leading UTSA with 11 points at the break.