UTSA’s Keaton Wallace shakes a defender to hit an 18-footer on Jan. 20 against UTEP.
UTSA freshman Keaton Wallace says he knows what to expect from the Marshall Thundering Herd.
“They like to play fast,” Wallace said. “They shoot a lot of threes, throw a lot of lobs.”
On the flip side, the Marshall coaching staff might not know exactly what to expect from Wallace and the Roadrunners when they meet tonight at 7 at the Convocation Center.
Is UTSA still the team that rushes the ball up the court and then allows one of its freshmen sharpshooters – Wallace and Jhivvan Jackson — to fire away from long distance?
Or, has UTSA’s fun-and-gun offense now been modified?
It’s hard to tell, after Wallace passed for a team season-high of 11 assists last Saturday in an eye-opening, 82-70 victory at Alabama-Birmingham.
As a team, the Roadrunners probably have never looked better in recent years than they did at UAB, when a crisp offense notched 24 assists on 32 field goals.
Wallace said it’s definitely the way he’d like to see the team play as it battles through the last month of the Conference USA schedule.
“That’s Roadrunner basketball,” Wallace said. “Moving the ball. Making open shots. Making plays for other teammates. Getting them open.”
But with powerful Marshall and Western Kentucky coming into San Antonio this week, can the Roadrunners keep it going?
“I feel like we’re locked in,” Wallace said. “We’re ready to play. I feel like we’re doing better things. We’re improving. We’re making better reads on offense and playing harder on defense, making the job easier for us.”
It’s certainly making the job easier for UTSA coach Steve Henson, who had been sweating a string of poor performances, particularly some poor offensive performances.
UTSA never looked worse this season than it did last Thursday in a 75-51 loss at Middle Tennessee State.
The Conference USA-leading Blue Raiders toyed with the Roadrunners, holding them to 34 percent shooting.
On the UTSA bench, Henson watched with some anxiety at the poor shot selection. So much so, that he spent all day last Friday trying to figure it out.
“You know, we kind of got tricked earlier in the year,” the coach said. “We had so many guys feeling good early, had so many guys shooting it well. You know, we just had easy shots.
“As the season went on, certain guys (weren’t) shooting it as well now as we were earlier, which affects everybody else.
“Defenses were getting better. Scouting reports were more specific. And we just (weren’t) running good offense.”
Shooting only 30.2 percent from the field in C-USA play, Wallace took the message to heart.
He emerged at UAB as a player intent on finding shots for his teammates.
In the first half alone, he passed for five assists, with four of them leading to three-point baskets.
How effective was he?
When Wallace entered the game, the Roadrunners led 4-1. When Henson took him out near the end of the half, they were up 37-22.
In the second half, the former backcourt standout at Richardson High School notched six more assists, with four resulting in layups.
As the team boarded the bus, they packed a few statistical oddities.
Giovanni De Nicolao, UTSA’s starting point guard and most consistent playmaker, had hit four three-pointers.
Wallace had only four points, but he had the most assists he’s ever had in a game in his life.
“Like I said, coach emphasized that we got to drive the ball more,” he said. “In previous games I’d been taking a lot of threes. So, he emphasized (that). He believes that I can drive the ball, that there’s more to my game than just shooting.
“I was driving it (against the Blazers), making the defense collapse and kicking it to my teammates. They were knocking down shots. So, credit to them.”
Wallace’s smooth shooting stroke from November and December still hasn’t re-emerged. He was only 2 for 7 against UAB. He took only one three pointer and missed it.
Henson, however, has hardly lost confidence in him.
The coach is staying with a player who has proven he can make a positive impact, one way or the other.
“When he locks in on trying to make shots for others, that helps him,” Henson said after Tuesday’s workout at UTSA. “He’s not going to lose his shooting ability. It’ll be big time when he gets all that stuff packaged together.
“Yeah, he’s got the ability to do what he did (at Birmingham). He did it today (in practice). He was really aggressive driving it.”
Wallace said, in a sense, the shooting slump has had its benefits in that it has sparked him in trying to improve in other phases.
“It forces you to adjust,” he said. “It forces me to think different. It forces me to do different things on the court.
“As far as not scoring as many points as I did before, now I have to think about getting a few more assists, a few more rebounds, so we can win those games.”
So, as his game evolves and the team faces a critical phase of its schedule, does he now consider himself more of a pass-first guard?
“Um, no,” Wallace said. “I wouldn’t say more of a pass-first guard. I would just say, making plays. A play-making guard.”
Freshman Keaton Wallace buries a three on Dec. 31 against North Texas.