UTSA sophomore Keaton Wallace pulls up for a shot Monday night with OU forward Brady Manek defending. Wallace scored a team-high 16 points. — Photo by Joe Alexander
For UTSA basketball fans stressing out over an 0-2 start, there’s really no reason to panic.
Roadrunners coach Steve Henson will find a way — that is, if you believe Oklahoma Sooners coach Lon Kruger.
Trailing by four points six minutes into the second half Monday night, Kruger’s Sooners powered past the Roadrunners, 87-67.
A crowd of 2,494 at he Convocation Center watched as OU manufactured a 39-15 run in the last 14 minutes to turn back a UTSA upset bid.
Combined with a 77-76 loss last week to Division II St. Edward’s, the Roadrunners remain winless leading into a Wednesday night road test at Oklahoma State.
Kruger suggested afterward that Henson, his longtime former assistant, will figure it out.
Remember, Henson is the guy who arrived at UTSA in 2016 to take over a team with five victories the previous season.
UTSA won 14 games in the coach’s first year, followed by 20 last year.
It’s an achievement that has surprised even Kruger, Henson’s coaching mentor since the late 1980s.
“No one is going to work harder at it than Steve and do it with more integrity than Steve,” Kruger said. “That they did it so quickly (in turning around the program) may be a little bit of a surprise.
“No, he’s got all the qualities to be an outstanding coach. He’s been one for two years, and I expect that to continue.
“I like his ball club this year a lot,” said Kruger, whose Sooners improved to 2-0. “You get (Jhivvan) Jackson back healthy and a couple others playing well, I like his team a whole lot.”
Jackson, UTSA’s leading scorer, is due back in December following knee surgery last spring.
Without him, the Roadrunners lack a go-to man when they need a bucket.
As a result, UTSA shot 44 percent against St. Edward’s and followed with 35.6 percent against Oklahoma.
The Roadrunners have also been turnover prone.
They had 19 in the opener and 14 against the Sooners, including several down the stretch.
Henson characterized the team’s mood after the loss as disappointed, “as it should be.”
“Disappointed that we didn’t play the way we needed to,” Henson said. “We fought, competed. Our effort was good. Our focus was good. Preparation was good, and they’re a good team.
“The main topic was turnovers. Some forced. Some unforced. They trapped us a little bit, which is something I thought our team would thrive off of … But (we) didn’t handle that very well.”
Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger watched as his team overcame a four-point, second-half deficit to beat UTSA by 20. — Photo by Joe Alexander
Oklahoma — Shooting guard Christian James scored a game-high 24 points on 8 of 10 shooting. Point guard Aaron Calixte had 18 points and four assists. Forward Brady Manek contributed 10 points and 11 rebounds.
UTSA — Guard Keaton Wallace had 16 points, four assists, two blocks and a steal. Forward Nick Allen scored 15. Point guard Giovanni De Nicolao had 12 points, 10 rebounds and seven turnovers.
With the offense struggling, the Roadrunners went scoreless for the first eight minutes and fell behind, 7-0. But after trailing by 12, they rallied with a 23-11 run to tie the game. Keaton Wallace hit consecutive threes in the streak, including one from long distance (see video below). OU retaliated with an 11-1 run to the buzzer, lifting OU into a 39-29 lead at the break.
The Roadrunners enjoyed the best six-minute stretch of the season at the outset, roaring from behind with a 23-9 run to take a 52-48 lead. Nick Allen keyed the streak with three baskets, including a driving layup, a three-pointer and a layup. De Nicolao and Wallace also added threes during the streak. Undaunted, the Sooners countered with solid bench play from Miles Reynolds and Jamal Bienemy. A Bienemy steal and layup, a jumper and another layup put OU up by five. The Sooners would not look back.
Nick Allen drives to the hoop against Oklahoma’s Christian James. Allen finished with 15 points.
Attendance at UTSA men’s basketball is notoriously modest.
Last year, the Roadrunners won 20 games for the first time in seven years, and the biggest crowd of the season was 2,210 for UTEP.
Historically, it’s a considered a good night when 1,200 or 1,300 fans turn out. Last year, the average was 1,146.
Crowd watchers will be on alert tonight when the Oklahoma Sooners tip off against the Roadrunners at 7 p.m.
Likely, Oklahoma is the most high profile program that UTSA has ever hosted at the Convocation Center, considering that OU plays in one of the major conferences and only three years ago was playing in the Final Four.
“It’s awesome,” UTSA forward Nick Allen said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to show that we can play at that level. There’s not really that much separation between these levels of schools.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Allen can’t wait to see what the atmosphere will be like.
“It’s going to be electric,” he predicted. “It’s going to be big time. It’ll be a lot of fun. People are going to be really into it. We’re really, really into it.
“We’re super-duper excited. I can’t wait.”
Asked what it would be like to play in front of a full house of people every night, Allen’s eyes lit up.
“That would be amazing, he said. “I think that is such an advantage when it comes to any sport. You come into someone else’s home and you feel the energy.
“You feel … not only do you play against five peoople, but I can feel a whole arena of people that do not like me and do not want me to win.”
UTSA played well against OU last year in Norman, trailing by single digits until the last few minutes. The Sooners eventually pulled out a 97-85 victory.
“It was different,” Allen said. “They had Trae Young on the floor, so they played a very different style of basketball. They played very open. The court was very, very spread.
“I think this year, it’s going to be a little bit different because they’re not going to have that. I think they’re going to play with more strength than speed and open-ness.”
OU opened its season with a 91-76 road victory at UT Pan American, while UTSA surprisingly lost at home to a Division II opponent, falling 77-76 to St. Edward’s.
Allen said UTSA has been “locked in, really focused” in practices since the opener.
“We’re not exactly OK with what happened … it put a little taste in our mouth, and we came to work, so, practices have been really good,” he said.
UTSA didn’t shoot the ball very well and, at other times, suffered from too many possessions in which they didn’t get a shot because of turnovers.
“There was some youthfulness to it, definitely,”‘ Allen said. “It’s the first game of the season, so there’s always that …. It was just little things. Like, little wrinkles. Just, attention to detail.”
UTSA coach Steve Henson starts practice Sunday afternoon in preparation for a much-anticipated home game Monday night against the Oklahoma Sooners.
On a rainy Sunday afternoon at UTSA, assistant basketball coach Mike Peck stopped outside the locker room, opening his eyes wide when asked about the challenge of playing a home game against the Oklahoma Sooners.
“I thought about staying in church til game time, just praying,” Peck said. “Steve said, ‘No.’ ”
Peck’s boss, UTSA head coach Steve Henson, smiled at his assistant’s comment.
Henson acknowledged the challenge at hand in facing the Sooners, for whom he worked as an assistant before taking the job at UTSA in 2016.
But he also said it’s not necessarily in his team’s best interest to slow it down.
Oklahoma (1-0) and UTSA (0-1) will tip off on Monday at 7 p.m. at the Convocation Center.
“They’re an imposing looking crew,” Henson said. “They are. They’ve done a great job. A couple of those skinny guys came in there, and Bryce Daub on the (OU) strength and conditioning staff has done a great job, bulking them up.
“We’re not going to out-muscle ’em. We’re not going to overpower ’em. But, we’re going to try to spread ’em out, move ’em, attack ’em.
“A lot of times, when you’re playing an elite program like that, you’re worried about trying to slow things down, thinking fewer possessions is better, that fewer possessions is going to increase your chances for winning.
“We’re not going to look at it that way. I don’t know that that’s to our advantage. I think more possessions is better than fewer possessions.”
UTSA forward Nick Allen rises up to hit a corner three-pointer in practice. The Roadrunners open the season Nov. 7 at home against St. Edward’s.
Eight days before showtime, third-year UTSA basketball coach Steve Henson stopped to talk to reporters after practice Tuesday afternoon and said he wants his team to compete for a championship.
Since UTSA has been picked to finish fifth in the C-USA poll, reporters asked Henson if the goals are loftier than that, given all the talent returning from a 20-win team.
“We’re not talking about a number of wins or any of that,” Henson said. “But we’re moving in the right direction. We’re stronger than we were. We’re deep. We got some pretty good maturity, some good leadership. We’re trying to position ourselves to make a run at a league title.”
The Roadrunners kick off the season at home against St. Edward’s, an NCAA Division II team from the Heartland Conference, on Nov. 7. On Nov. 12, UTSA will welcome coach Lon Kruger and the high-powered Oklahoma Sooners.
A starting lineup could consist of Nick Allen and promising newcomer Atem Bior in the post positions, with Byron Frohnen at wing and Keaton Wallace and Giovanni De Nicolao at the guard spots.
UTSA is expected to have one of the better backcourts in the conference, especially when sophomore Jhivvan Jackson is cleared to play.
Jackson, UTSA’s leading scorer last year, is recovering well from a knee injury and is tentatively set to play in early December, Henson said.
A promising newcomer
Henson said he has been particularly pleased with the play of Bior, a 6-foot-7, 235-pound power forward from Brisbane, Australia, who will bring a physical style under the glass.
“He’s a strong guy,” Henson said. “He’s extremely quick, rebounds the ball above the rim. You know, we got a bunch of guys that box out and chase after rebounds, but you notice him getting rebounds up higher than the other guys.”
Bior, who played last year at New Mexico Military Institute, averaged 13.1 points and 8.7 rebounds in leading the Broncos to an 18-12 record.
He started 29 of 30 games, shooting 48 percent from the field and 76 percent at the free-throw line. Bior is classified as a junior.
UTSA power forward Atem Bior hails from Brisbane, Australia.
The UTSA Roadrunners have been picked fifth in the Conference USA men’s basketball race, the conference announced Thursday. UTSA is coming off its first 20-win season in seven years.
Additionally, sophomore guard Jhivvan Jackson has been named to the all-C-USA preseason team. Jackson is recovering from knee surgery, with an expected return in December.
2018-19 Conference USA Preseason Team
Jon Davis, Charlotte
Daquan Bracey, Louisiana Tech
Jon Elmore, Marshall
C.J Burks, Marshall
Roosevelt Smart, North Texas
Ahmad Caver, Old Dominion
B.J. Stith, Old Dominion
Zack Bryant, UAB
Jhivvan Jackson, UTSA
Taveion Hollingsworth, WKU
Desean Murray, WKU
High-scoring guard Jhivvan Jackson’s return from a knee injury is now projected for “early December,” UTSA men’s basketball coach Steve Henson said Tuesday.
Late in the summer, Henson and his staff were hopeful that Jackson would be able to play in the Nov. 7 season opener against St. Edward’s.
But the coach confirmed the new timetable after putting his team through its first official practice at the Convocation Center.
“The doctor, in studying that data, just changed his philosophy a little bit,” Henson said. “It pushes his return back. Which increases his chance for a full recovery, which is what we want.
“But we’ll miss him in some of those games now.”
The Roadrunners will play seven games in November, a schedule that includes a Nov. 12 home date against the Oklahoma Sooners.
They’ll play another six games in December, including a Dec. 15 game in North Little Rock against Arkansas.
Conference USA play opens Jan. 3 at home against the UTEP Miners.
Last season, Jackson set the school’s freshman scoring record with 534 points and led the team with 18.4 per game.
He suffered the injury on Feb. 24 in a home game against Louisiana Tech and sat out the remainder of the season, during which UTSA finished 20-15.
It was UTSA’s first 20-win season since 2011.
The former Puerto Rico junior national team guard had surgery in the third week of March.
UTSA is expected to be strong again this season, with a backcourt including returning standouts Jackson, Keaton Wallace and Giovanni De Nicolao.
Before Jackson returns to the lineup, Henson could go with a starting guard personnel that would include Wallace, De Nicolao and Byron Frohnen, who swings between the wing and power forward.
Or, he could plug in one of his two freshmen standouts — Adokiye Iyaye or Tamir Bynum.
Senior Nick Allen leads a contingent of post players that include Adrian Rodriguez, newcomer Atem Bior and Toby Van Ry.
Giovanni De Nicolao
“We’re a veteran team right now. I think we can step up and show what we can do this year. Of course, we can still shoot from three. We can run. We just got to improve on some defensive things.” — UTSA junior guard Giovanni De Nicolao.