Germany played 12 minutes and scored eight points on Wednesday, Oct. 30. 2019 at the UTSA Convocation Center. The Roadrunners beat Texas A&M International 89-60 in an exhibition game. Germany shot 3-of-4 from the field and 2-of-2 on free throws and had 5 rebounds.
As the UTSA Roadrunners trampled Division II Texas A&M International 89-60 Wednesday night in an exhibition at the Convocation Center, junior Keaton Wallace emerged as the team’s heir apparent at point guard.
Wallace, who has played off the ball for most of his first two seasons with the Roadrunners, handled the point with both precision and flair in a night’s work that spanned 27 minutes.
He did a little of everything well.
As a distributor, he passed for seven assists and didn’t make a turnover. As a defender, he disrupted the Laredo-based Dustdevils with four steals.
Most encouraging, Wallace did all of that while remaining a threat to shoot the ball, scoring 14 points on 4 of 10 from the field, including 2 of 8 from three.
Coming into the season, UTSA had a void to fill with three-year starting point guard Giovanni De Nicolao electing to finish school early so that he could play professionally in Italy.
In the wake of De Nicolao’s departure, UTSA coach Steve Henson has been looking to Wallace and Jhivvan Jackson, plus freshmen Erik Czumbel and Makani Whiteside, as options to play the position.
But it’s clear that Wallace, who brought the ball up court for most of the night in the exhibition, will take the reins when the Roadrunners open the regular season next Tuesday at Oklahoma.
“We’re going to have the ball in Keaton’s hands a lot,” Henson said. “He’s been playing the majority of the minutes at point guard for us. Jhivvan (Jackson), we want to get the ball in his hands. Erik (Czumbel) has been pretty steady there.
“If we need to get Keaton and Jhivvan off the ball, Erik can assume those (playmaking) duties. He’s very comfortable. He’s been a point guard his whole career.”
Wallace, who averaged 20.5 points per game last season, is embracing the opportunity to expand his role.
“Since we lost Gio last year, I decided to take my game to the next level, try to move to the one (guard), try to take on more of a leadership role this year,” he said.
The 6-3 guard from Dallas admitted that the move has been an adjustment.
“At first I was a little uncomfortable because I had to step outside of my shell and, you know, talk more, be more vocal, trying to get the guys more involved,” he said. “But now I’m feeling pretty good, being more comfortable.
“You know, I believe in the guys and the guys believe in me, so we had that trust. So, everything’s going good.”
UTSA's Keaton Wallace drives and dishes to Jhivvan Jackson, who drains a three. The Roadrunners are rolling in an exhibition opener, leading 49-30 at halftime against Texas A&M International. https://t.co/hyCDEtJ4sq pic.twitter.com/F2RUhuU25i
— Jerry Briggs (@JerryBriggs) October 31, 2019
Henson started Atem Bior and Luka Barisic in the post positions, with Byron Frohnen on the wing, plus Jackson and Wallace in the back court. Barisic is a transfer from Highland Community College in Illinois. He is a native of Croatia.
The coach played all 13 players, including walk-on Austin Timperman.
Jackson, Conference USA’s leading scorer last year at 22.9 points per game, played predominantly off the ball and led the Roadrunners with 15 points in 16 minutes. He hit 3 of 11 from the field, 2 of 8 from three and 7 of 8 at the line.
— UTSA Basketball (@UTSAMBB) October 31, 2019
Freshman center Jacob Germany touched off a dance party by students behind press row when he soared for an alley-oop dunk in the second half. Germany, 6-10, from Kingston, Okla., finished with eight points and five rebounds.
As a team, the Roadrunners hit only 43.3 percent of their shots and were out-rebounded 45-39 by the out-sized Dustdevils. But UTSA made up for it by forcing 28 turnovers and holding the visitors to 36.2 percent afield.
Breaking out to a 49-30 lead at intermission, UTSA continued to pour it on and juiced the advantage by as many as 30 three times in the last five minutes.
But unlike so many other exhibition openers in the nearly 40-year history of men’s basketball at the school, they’ll have more to offer than free admission, plus chips and sticky nachos.
This year, the Roadrunners also will unveil a team that might actually have the talent to be considered as an NCAA tournament contender.
As UTSA prepares for a 7 p.m. tipoff against Texas A&M International, fourth-year coach Steve Henson says it’s the best team he’s had on the Loop 1604 campus.
“It’s the most talented team since I’ve been here,” he said. “Biggest front line since I’ve been here, (with the) most three-point shooters.”
When Henson arrived at UTSA a little more than three years ago, the talent was not good.
The Roadrunners were coming off four straight losing records, including an abysmal 5-27 in 2015-16.
Since then, UTSA has completely revamped the program, posting a combined 37 wins in the past two years.
The back-to-back winning records of 20-15 two years ago, and 17-15 last year, are a first since 2010-11 and ’11-12, the program’s last two teams in the Southland Conference.
Last year, the Roadrunners challenged for the Conference USA regular-season title until the last few weeks behind the dynamic tandem of guards Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace.
Ultimately, they finished tied for second at 11-7 and earned a bye to the C-USA tournament quarterfinals in Frisco, where their road came to an end with a loss to the UAB Blazers.
In the season finale, the Roadrunners fell hard, giving up 50 points to the Blazers in the second half.
Leading by seven at intermission with senior power forward Nick Allen playing on a broken toe, they lost 85-76.
“People don’t give (senior) Giovanni (De Nicolao) and Nick enough credit for what they did defensively,” Henson said. “Those were the guys who, when things got tough, they would rally the troops … They were the talk the talk guys, and then walk the talk, and all that.
“I mean, they backed it up, and they were all about team, team, team.”
Henson will lean on Jackson and Wallace to assume the leadership responsibilities this year, in the program’s 39th season.
“We’ve got a pretty introverted team, a quiet team,” the coach said. “But those guys have provided the type of leadership that we need right now. (I’m) very pleased with that.”
UTSA at a glance
Program debut: UTSA started playing men’s basketball in 1981-82. NCAA tournament appearances: 1988, 1999, 2004, 2011. Last season: 17-15, 11-7 in Conference USA; lost in C-USA tournament quarterfinals.
Coach Steve Henson
Taking over a team that won only five games in 2015-16, Henson has coached UTSA to records of 14-19, 20-15 and 17-15. He’s finished 11-7 in conference each of the past two seasons.
G Jhivvan Jackson (22.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg), G Keaton Wallace (20.2, 5.0), F Byron Frohnen (6.4, 6.8)
Newcomers to watch
C Jacob Germany, F Luka Barisic, G Knox Hellums, F Phoenix Ford, G Erik Czumbel, G Makani Whiteside
After the loss of three-year starter Giovanni De Nicolao, point guard duties are expected to be shared by Wallace, Jackson, Czumbel and Whiteside.
“I think what really jumps out is just the competitiveness in practice,” Henson said. “It’s just a deeper (team), certainly bigger and stronger. Way more depth than we’ve ever had along the front line. It’s just very noticeable. You walk in and you see bigger and stronger guys … It creates a little more physicality in the paint. We’ve got good depth across the board. So when we go head to head, the games are pretty competitive.”