What game winner? UTSA’s Czumbel returns to play Rice

Erik Czumbel. UTSA beat Lamar 88-66 on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Sophomore guard Erik Czumbel has emerged as a key player in the UTSA rotation, averaging 7.4 points per game in 23.9 minutes off the bench. — Photo by Joe Alexander

When UTSA guard Erik Czumbel was asked recently what he remembered about last year’s game at Rice, his basketball personality emerged in a subtle way, in something that he did not say.

“Last year, it was a competitive game,” Czumbel said. “I remember, like, they hit a lot of shots. A lot of contested threes. They played really well, and it came down to the end of the game. We played not so well in the first half. But we picked it up in the second half.”

UTSA guard Erik Czumbel, playing against Sul Ross on Dec. 4, 2020, at the Convocation Center, started two of UTSA's first six games of the season and averages 7.2 points. - photo by Joe Alexander

Czumbel, a sophomore from Verona, Italy, gives the Roadrunners a physical defensive presence in the backcourt. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Oh, and, one other thing.

Just for the record, the 6-foot-3 former Italian U-18 national team member did hit the game-winning layup with one second remaining in the Roadrunners’ pulsating 90-88 victory over the Owls.

But in keeping with Czumbel’s low-key persona as a ball player, reporters more or less had to pry that out of him with a follow-up question in a zoom conference earlier this week.

“So, Erik,” he was asked, “what do you remember about UTSA’s last offensive possession?”

Czumbel smiled.

“I know I scored the game winner last year,” he said. “They had an inbounds play from the baseline. I think we got a deflection. I remember Byron (Frohnen), I think, passing me the ball. I knew there were not that many seconds left. I just took off and tried to get a layup. And, so it went in.

“Happy ending.”

The subject of Czumbel’s heroics a year ago come up again as the Roadrunners (4-3) prepare to play the Owls (6-2) on Friday and again on Saturday in Houston. On both days, tipoff is at 2 p.m. at Tudor Fieldhouse.

In Czumbel, the Roadrunners have found themselves a player who doesn’t really like talking about himself, doesn’t necessarily have to shoot to affect the outcome of a game and as a result is endearing himself to coaches who love the attitude.

When he does shoot, the results speak with increasing volume.

Playing off more heavily guarded Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace, the combo guard from Verona, Italy, connects on 57.7 percent from the field and 57.9 percent from three, all while averaging 7.4 points.

“Just a great teammate,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “(He’s) a very, very tough, focused and conscientious player. Talk about every-day guys. He’s an every-day guy. He’s very, very tough physically. He tries to do exactly what you tell him.

“He’s a word-for-word guy. You tell him to go and pick on the wing at a certain angle, and he’s going to go and do it exactly the way you tell him to do it.”

Czumbel arrived in San Antonio in the summer of 2019 as a player UTSA coaches hoped would fill the void left by another Italian, former three-year starter Giovanni de Nicolao.

When De Nicolao broached the idea about leaving UTSA after his junior year to play pro ball in his native country, the Roadrunners started scanning the horizon.

It wasn’t long before they spied Czumbel, rising up in the ranks of the Italian junior circuit.

He had played for Team Italy in the FIBA U-18 European Championships, where he averaged 8.3 points, 2.4 assists and 1.6 rebounds.

Rotnei Clark, one of the greatest scorers in Oklahoma high school basketball history, helped facilitate the Roadrunners’ contact with Czumbel.

A player once recruited by Henson, Clark was starting for a pro team in Italy at the time, with Czumbel backing him up.

“He guards me every day. He’s an unbelievable defender,” Clark told Henson on the phone one day. “He’s tough. He’s coachable.”

Replied Henson, “That’s what we want. That’s what we need.”

As a result, Czumbel visited UTSA in the spring of 2019 and committed, reportedly shunning Loyola Marymount and another school that he had visited.

Last year, he played 32 games and started 24. This year, he’s played in all seven of UTSA’s games and has started two. He’s averaging 23.9 minutes.

UTSA assistant coach Scott Thompson is most happy to see Czumbel make steady progress.

It’s also not surprising at all to Thompson that Czumbel, who will turn 21 on Jan. 11, doesn’t seem fazed by playing on the road at Oklahoma or Oregon State.

In Europe, Czumbel played a lot of games in second division games against older players.

“The European game, there’s a toughness to it,” Thompson said. “They’re all about team. They’re all about winning.”

After a rocky start that included two bad losses at UT Rio Grande Valley and Oklahoma, the Roadrunners have started to play better.

After nearly upsetting Oregon State on the road, they’ve won two straight, notching lopsided home victories over Our Lady of the Lake and Lamar.

Czumbel is encouraged.

He said he likes the way the team is getting more production out of more players. He said he also likes the way the Roadrunners utilized a break between the Lamar and the Rice games.

“I think we’re working really hard,” he said. “We still have a lot of improvement (to make) … But we’ve seen some improvements already.

“I think from the first few games, coach said this is the best offensive ranking we’ve had in five years. With Jhivvan and Keaton not shooting it really well, it doesn’t feel that way.

“It’s amazing how it is. Because, we’re getting to the line more. We have a lot of players that don’t play big minutes but still average high points. So I think we’re improving every day. We look good.”

Henson said Czumbel has earned his coaches’ and teammates’ respect.

“Right now he’s coming off the bench, but he’s a starter and he’s going to be in the game at key points in the game,” the coach said. “We have a lot of confidence in him. His teammates have a lot of confidence in him. He affects the game, even when he’s not scoring.”

And when he does shoot it? Often times, good things happen for the Roadrunners on those occasions, as well.

Just ask the Rice Owls.

Steve Henson: UTSA in ‘pretty good shape’ physically

The UTSA Roadrunners experienced a few injury scares in their Dec. 22 home game against the Lamar Cardinals.

Jhivvan Jackson, Cedric Alley and Keaton Wallace all were slowed in the second half of UTSA’s last game before the Christmas break.

But on UTSA coach Steve Henson’s zoom call with reporters Wednesday, he said his team is in “pretty good shape” leading into Friday afternoon’s Conference USA opener against the Rice Owls.

“Today, you see a guy get bumped, knocked down,” Henson said. “Our guys are diving on the floor more, which is good. Our guys are playing hard. They’re getting treatment with (the trainer), but nothing of any real concern at this point.”

UTSA plays at Rice on back-to-back days, on Friday and Saturday.

“Adrian Rodriguez, I think, has got the most significant lingering injury,” Henson said. “He continues to feel good. Every day that goes by, he feels better. Healthier.

“We’ve been pretty fortunate in that regard. All the way through (the season), really. With Covid, with the normal sickness and injuries. We’ve had a lot of guys at practice every day.

“Like anybody, we’ve had a few sprained ankles. A few guys have had to miss a few practices. But, we’ve been pretty healthy.”

Coming up

UTSA at Rice, Friday and Saturday
North Texas at UTSA, Jan. 8 and Jan. 9


UTSA 4-3
Rice 6-2

‘Weird situations’ loom with C-USA schedule

Because of preseason adjustments designed to cut down on travel during the pandemic, UTSA is now scheduled to play only nine C-USA opponents during the regular season.

UTSA (4-3) will play each opponent twice, starting with a pair of road games Friday and Saturday in Houston against Rice (6-2).

“We’re thrilled that we were able to get in seven non-conference games,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said Wednesday. “We made the decision to not play in a (multi-team event). We were able to get our games in. Now we’re hoping to get a bunch of conference games in and continue to play better.

“But, yeah, there’s going to be some weird situations. Not playing people in your own league is very odd, obviously. If there is cancellations or postponements, that’s going to throw in some more questions as we move along.

“But you just can’t waste energy worrying about those things that are out of our control.”

UTSA is set to play against all six of its C-USA West opponents, plus FIU, Florida Atlantic and Charlotte from the East.

It’s an open question as to whether UTSA has advantage in not having to play Western Kentucky, Marshall and Old Dominion. North Texas, for instance, will play two-game sets against Old Dominion and Marshall on the road and Western Kentucky at home.

“You know, if you start doing that, you drive yourself crazy,” Henson said. “I mean, we’ve had some pretty good success against … some of those teams. We’ve lost some (games) against teams in the bottom half. We struggled against some of those teams.

“The fact that we don’t have to travel all the way to those places is kind of nice. I know that. Those are some rough road trips. But our guys get excited to play some of those opponents.

“If we have a good season and then are denied an opportunity to play them, I think our guys, they’ll probably be disappointed that we don’t get to play them.

“But, I think the league is doing the best they can. They’ve tried to set up a lot of regional opportunities. Obviously, going all the way to Florida, there’s some things that don’t quite make sense.

“But again, it’s hard. You lay out the blue print, try to factor in 14 (teams), it gets really, really hard.”

C-USA basketball will move to divisional standings

Conference USA men’s and women’s basketball will move to a divisional standings format for the 2020-21 season, as approved by the league’s Board of Directors.

The move was announced Wednesday, two days before the start of the C-USA conference season.

C-USA will feature East and West divisions and will crown divisional champions at the conclusion of conference play in March.

Standings will be based on overall conference winning percentage. In addition, divisional seeding will be utilized for the C-USA Men’s and Women’s Championships. A cross-divisional bracket will be used to determine first-round matchups.

The conference announced the divisions as follows:

East — Charlotte, FIU, Florida Atlantic, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion and Western Kentucky.

West — Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Rice, Southern Miss, UAB, UTEP and UTSA.

UTSA men’s coach Steve Henson said “there are a lot of advantages” to having divisions in a 14-team league.

“Over the years, conferences have continued to get bigger and bigger,” Henson said. “Years ago, a seven-team league was not uncommon. Seven- or eight-teams in the league was kind of normal. Having divisions can provide a lot of positives. It can give you key games late in conference play.

“The way we’re doing it this year, we’re just playing a schedule but then ranking the results based on divisions. It’s kind of a unique way of looking at it this year.”

UTSA men’s and women’s conference competition begins this weekend, with the men set for back-to-back games at Rice on Friday and Saturday. Also Friday and Saturday, the UTSA women will host Rice.

The C-USA Basketball Championships will be held at The Star, in Frisco, from March 10-13. This will be the fourth year that the event will be held in Frisco.

UTSA rolls past Lamar as Barisic produces a double-double

Luka Barisic had 18 points and 10 rebounds as UTSA beat Lamar 88-66 on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Luka Barisic supplied much-needed early offense by hitting 4 of 8 shots in the first half. He finished 7 of 11 for a career-high 18 points. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Senior forward Luka Barisic finished with a career-high 18 points and 10 rebounds Tuesday night, rallying the UTSA Roadrunners past the Lamar Cardinals, 88-66.

After trailing for much of the first half on their home floor at the Convocation Center, UTSA called on its bench to light a spark.

Three international players — Barisic, Erik Czumbel and Lachlan Bofinger — along with a few others made it happen, as UTSA defeated an NCAA Division I program for the first time this season and improved to 4-0 at home.

Taking a three-point lead into the second half, the Roadrunners started to play much better on both ends.

As a result, they routed the Cardinals 54-35 in the final 20 minutes behind 65 percent shooting from the floor.

For the game, the Roadrunners’ reserves hit 15 of 22 afield and outscored the Cardinals, 41-21.

Keaton Wallace. UTSA beat Lamar 88-66 on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Keaton Wallace missed his first three shots but made four of his last seven to finish with 12 points. — Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA has a nine-day break before opening Conference USA play at Rice.

The Roadrunners play the Owls on back-to-back days in Houston, on Jan. 1-2, to kick off the conference phase of the schedule.


UTSA 4-3
Lamar 1-7


Luka Barisic, a 6-foot-10 native of Croatia, arrived at UTSA last season as a junior college transfer. After averaging 6.6 points in his first year as a Roadrunner, he entered the Lamar game averaging 7.5. Against the Cardinals, he checked in at 16:57 of the first half, and after missing his first shot, he made his next three to spark the Roadrunners. He finished 7 of 11 from the field, including 3 of 6 from three-point territory.


“I was just feeling good. I made some shots. That raised the confidence. Then, it’s much easier to play.” — Luka Barisic.

Flow of the game

From the opening tip, Lamar played with confidence, as the team shot 50 percent from the field or better for the first 15 minutes. Guard Davion Buster led the way with three 3-point shots.

Several times, the Cardinals pushed the lead to six, the last time with 4:04 remaining before the break.

Keaton Wallace hit his only field goal of the first half with three seconds left, lifting the Roadrunners into a 34-31 lead at intermission.

The shot capped a 12-3 run for UTSA in the final four minutes and created a sense of momentum leading into the dressing room.

Erik Czumbel. UTSA beat Lamar 88-66 on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Sophomore guard Erik Czumbel had nine points, two rebounds and two assists in 22 minutes. — Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA led all the way in the second half. At one point, the Cardinals pulled within two with 15 minutes left. But the Roadrunners kicked up the tempo and sent the visitors reeling with a 21-7 run, capped by dunks from Bofinger and Jacob Germany.

UTSA led by as much as 25 with less than two minutes remaining.

Coach’s corner

Steve Henson: “I didn’t think we came out with the kind of fight that I thought we would have. We were pretty energetic at shootaround. We had a good practice yesterday. Our guys just didn’t get off to a very good start. The game itself didn’t have much flow. It was kind of slow. We weren’t getting stops and we couldn’t run … Jhivvan (Jackson) didn’t shoot it well early. That was one of the positives. We were able to play through one of those nights.”

Finding balance

The Roadrunners won by 22 points on a night when Jackson hit only 3 of 13 shots from the floor. It’s a good sign moving forward that the Roadrunners didn’t crater under those circumstances. Instead, they got balanced scoring, including the team-leading 18 points from Barisic, but also Wallace (12), Eric Parrish (11) and Germany (10). Jackson and Czumbel had nine each.

UTSA vs. Lamar photo gallery

Cedrick Alley Jr. made UTSA's first two baskets of the game as the Roadrunners beat Lamar 88-66 on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Cedrick Alley Jr. made UTSA’s first two baskets of the game as the Roadrunners beat Lamar 88-66 on Tuesday.

UTSA has won three of its last four games after beating Lamar 88-66 on Tuesday at the Convocation Center. Luka Barisic led UTSA with 18 points, Keaton Wallace had 12, Eric Parrish 11 and Jacob Germany 10.

Still-developing UTSA hosts Lamar as C-USA play looms

Hoping to stay undefeated at home and ramp up efficiency to a higher level, the UTSA Roadrunners will host the Lamar Cardinals tonight at the Convocation Center. Tipoff is at 6 p.m.

Roadrunners coach Steve Henson looks on as UTSA beat Our Lady of the Lake 102-70 on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Steve Henson wants to see improvement today as his team hosts Lamar, from the Southland Conference. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The Roadrunners (3-3) and Cardinals (1-6) are both playing their last game before opening their respective conference schedules.

Lamar, from the Southland Conference, will return home to host Southeastern Louisiana next Tuesday.

UTSA will tip off its Conference USA slate on New Year’s Day. The Roadrunners will play on the road at Rice University on a two-game swing, Jan. 1-2.

Against Lamar, UTSA will be looking for its first victory of the season against an NCAA Division I program.

They’re 0-3 against Division I teams including losses at UT Rio Grande Valley, Oklahoma and Oregon State.

The Roadrunners are coming off a resounding victory, 102-70 Our Lady of the Lake, a San Antonio-based NAIA program.

UTSA overwhelmed OLLU athletically on Sunday afternoon but had far too many mistakes to satisfy Coach Steve Henson.

“We did what we needed to do,” Henson said. “We got the win. There were a lot of positives. But there were a lot of areas that weren’t good enough. We had too many turnovers.

“We were bothered by their press, which was nothing unusual. A little surprised we didn’t handle that a little bit better. There were a lot of opportunities to break the press and go make plays.

“So there were some teachable moments. Now, we don’t have a lot of time to look at this one, because we’ve got to move quickly on to Lamar. But there’s still a lot of room for growth, and our guys know that.

“We’re not where (we want to be). We’ve got to get better — a lot better.”

Coming up

Lamar at UTSA, 6 p.m. today
UTSA at Rice, Jan. 1, 2 p.m.
UTSA at Rice, Jan. 2, 2 p.m.


The Roadrunners have produced back-to-back strong efforts on the boards. At Oregon State on Dec. 16, UTSA dominated the glass against a bigger team in the first half and led 34-30 at halftime. The Beavers retaliated with their own sustained effort after intermission and pulled out the victory, 73-61. Against OLLU, UTSA held a 65-38 edge on the boards in a 102-70 victory.


“It’s going to help us win games. Today we got 31 offensive rebounds. I think that’s probably the most I’ve been around. It just helps give us more possessions. And we’ve been limiting teams to one shot. That’s really a key for our defense.” — UTSA guard Jhivvan Jackson

Jackson, UTSA race past Our Lady of the Lake, 102-70

Jhivvan Jackson scored a team-high 27 points as UTSA beat Our Lady of the Lake 102-70 on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jhivvan Jackson scored 23 points in the first half for UTSA. He had 27 for the game, one off his season-high. – photo by Joe Alexander

The UTSA Roadrunners went off on a 19-1 scoring spree during a six-minute stretch in the first half Sunday and then cruised past the NAIA Our Lady of the Lake University Saints, 102-70, at the Convocation Center.

Bouncing back from a poor shooting effort at Oregon State last week, UTSA guard Jhivvan Jackson scored 27 points on 10 of 15 shooting from the field.

Center Jacob Germany produced 17 points, 12 rebounds and two blocked shots for the Roadrunners, who improved to 3-0 at home this season and 3-3 overall.

Jordan Embry. UTSA beat Our Lady of the Lake 102-70 on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jordan Embry led San Antonio-based Our Lady of the Lake with 14 points and 10 rebounds. — Photo by Joe Alexander

“It felt good, because we thought we was going to win that one at Oregon State,” Jackson said. “I think we played the right way. Just, the shots didn’t go in … We started off a little slow (today) but we picked it up. It felt good. Having a win always feels good.”

Jackson, UTSA’s all-time leading scorer, was held to 10 points on 3 of 18 shooting at Oregon State last Wednesday.

Returning to a home court setting that has been kind to him over the past three-plus seasons, he scored 23 in the first half on 9 of 12 accuracy from the field.

“I feel comfortable in every building, you know,” Jackson said. “I work hard enough to feel comfortable. I was not focused too much on my shot (today). You know, I wanted to get more in the paint. I think that worked out for me.”

Our Lady of the Lake was playing its second game in two days in two different cities.

After losing on the road Saturday afternoon at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 99-72, the Saints showed up at UTSA less than 24 hours later determined to knock off an NCAA program starting its 40th season of basketball.

UTSA had other ideas, dominating in all phases of the game in the first half en route to a 54-30 lead.

The Roadrunners finished with a season-high in points, topping the 97 they scored in the season opener against Texas-Permian Basin.

They also finished with a dominating performance on the boards. UTSA out-rebounded a smaller OLLU team, 65-38, including a massive 31-13 advantage on the offensive glass.

Later, on a Zoom conference with reporters, UTSA players admitted they may have let a major victory slip through their fingers in the 73-61 loss at Oregon State.

“I think they definitely got away with that one,” Germany said. “I think we could have done a lot better in the second half. To go on more runs. To pick it up defensively. It happens. Basketball is a game of runs. They just out-ran us.”

They led 13-0 early in the game at OSU and 34-30 at halftime. The Roadrunners were up 51-46 with 7:22 remaining and then collapsed with poor shooting and defensive lapses down the stretch.


Our Lady of the Lake 1-3
UTSA 3-3

Coming up

Lamar at UTSA, Tuesday, 6 p.m.


On Dec. 12, OLLU recorded an upset victory against Division I Texas State, winning on the road in San Marcos, 61-58. UTSA coach Steve Henson made sure his team was aware of it. He also said it was important to get off to a good start after what happened in Oregon.


Said Henson: “We have a lot of respect for Texas State, and they beat Texas State. So our guys knew we had to come out and play the right way. We’re just trying to keep building. We felt like we did some good things leading up to Oregon State. We opened that game the right way. We did pretty well in the first half. We were going to come back and see if we could do it again today.”

Jacob Germany had 17 points and 12 rebounds as UTSA beat Our Lady of the Lake 102-70 on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA center Jacob Germany produced 17 points and 12 rebounds against Our Lady of the Lake. Germany helped the Roadrunners out-rebound the visitors, 65-38.- photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA vs. OLLU photo gallery

OLLU's Jordan Embry (1) contests a shot by UTSA's Eric Parrish as UTSA beat Our Lady of the Lake 102-70 on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

OLLU’s Jordan Embry (1) contests a shot by UTSA’s Eric Parrish (20) on Sunday at the Convocation Center.

UTSA beat Our Lady of the Lake 102-70 on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, at the UTSA Convocation Center.

Jhivvan Jackson led UTSA with 27 points. Jordan Embry, Ruben Monzon and Ethan White led OLLU with 14 points each.

Oregon State rallies late to knock off UTSA, 73-61

The UTSA Roadrunners were looking for a reason to celebrate after an erratic start to their 40th season of basketball.

They nearly pulled it off, but they couldn’t hold on at the end.

The Oregon State Beavers rallied late in the game behind guard Ethan Thompson for a 73-61 victory at Gill Coliseum.

In the contest played in Corvallis, Ore., the Roadrunners started fast with a 13-0 lead.

They led 34-30 at intermission and 51-46 with 7:22 remaining when Luka Barisic hit a three off the wing.

At that point, UTSA’s first victory over a power conference team in 11 years seemed well within reach.

But the home team didn’t want any part of that history, and Thompson scored five straight points to fuel a 12-1 run for the Beavers, who play in the Pac-12 Conference.

The 6-foot-5 guard finished with 22 points to lead all scorers.


Oregon State 3-3
UTSA 2-3


UTSA remained winless on the season against NCAA Division I competition, falling to 0-3 with losses to UT Rio Grande Valley, Oklahoma and Oregon State.

In addition, UTSA dropped to 0-11 against teams from the five major, revenue-producing conferences in Coach Steve Henson’s tenure with the Roadrunners.

UTSA has now lost 23 in a row against teams from conferences that include the Big 12, the Big Ten, the Pac-12, the ACC and the SEC. The Roadrunners’ last win against a power conference team came 11 years ago, in November of 2009, at Iowa.

The Roadrunners out-hustled the Beavers for most of the afternoon, but failed to get their offensive stars going. Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace combined for 4 of 29 shooting from the field.


“Well, it was maybe the most promising game we’ve had in terms of effort. I really liked the way our guys competed defensively. On the glass. Getting after loose balls. The effort, we were locked in. Was very, very pleased with that … We just never could get it going offensively.” — Steve Henson, on the team’s radio broadcast.

By the numbers

It was a tough day for Jackson and Wallace, two of the best scorers in UTSA history.

Jackson missed all 10 of his shot attempts in the first half and then misfired on his first three after intermission.

He finally hit for the first time with 14:45 left in the game on a 10-foot pull-up. Jackson, UTSA’s all-time leading scorer, finished 3 of 18 from the field for 10 points.

Wallace also started slowly, 1-6 in the first half. Saddled with foul trouble in the second half, he was 0-5 after intermission to finish 1 of 11.

He fouled out with 39 seconds left after producing five points, three rebounds and three assists.

The Roadrunners led in rebounding 27-16 at the half, including a 10-5 edge on the offensive end.

After intermission, the taller and bigger Beavers started playing harder and emerged with a 36-36 tie on the boards for the game.

Coming up

Our Lady of the Lake University at UTSA, Sunday, 3 p.m.