For UTSA, can a ‘down-hill’ offense lead to a better defense?

UTSA men's basketball head coach Steve Henson at Friday's game against North Texas at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Coach Steve Henson and the UTSA Roadrunners host the Southern Miss Golden Eagles tonight. — Photo by Joe Alexander

If you run across a perfect formula for guarding the pick and roll in basketball, please let me know.

I’ve been watching hoops closely since the 1970s. Since Texas’ Abe Lemons chomped on those short, un-lit cigars in Austin. Since Doug Moe’s Spurs jingle-jangled their way out of the ABA and into the NBA.

Jhivvan Jackson. UTSA beat North Texas 77-69 in a Conference USA game on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Steve Henson says he’d like to get Jhivvan Jackson, UTSA’s all-time leading scorer, involved in more action going toward the basket. — Photo by Joe Alexander

And with all due respect to Hubie Brown and Gregg Popovich, two of the greatest defensive strategists of all time, I really haven’t seen anyone come up with a fool-proof method to stop the pick (or screen) and roll.

A ball handler dribbles at the top of the key with a defender, knees bent, hoping to get a stop. The ball handler’s teammate runs over and screens the defender. Freed from pressure for an instant, ball handler pounds the dribble and surges into the lane. Defensive players rotate to stop the drive. Screener rolls to the hoop…

Coaches through the ages have debated how to defend such a ploy. But, in the vast majority of instances, the offense gets a basket or, at least, an open look at the rim. It is almost inevitable.

It is the reason why the pick and roll is almost as old as the peach basket itself and continues to be deployed by everyone from dad coaches in youth sports, to Coach K and on to the elite coaches in the NBA.

Which brings us to today’s topic on the floundering UTSA Roadrunners, who rank last in points allowed and third-to-last in both field-goal and three-point percentage defense in Conference USA.

Yes, after defense was stressed since last summer and throughout the preseason workouts, members of the UTSA coaching staff have a right to feel some exasperation.

Keaton Wallace. UTSA beat North Texas 77-69 in a Conference USA game on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Senior guard Keaton Wallace has boosted the Roadrunners with inspired play on both ends of the floor for four years. Could he become even more effective with a few more trips to the free throw line per game? — Photo by Joe Alexander

Players likely are feeling some frustration themselves after a 1-5 start to the C-USA phase of the schedule. Do they continue to attack screen and roll? Do they try some other ploy?

What about double-teaming the post? The tactic worked fairly well in the first game at Louisiana Tech last week, but then it backfired some in the second meeting, leaving shooters open to hit from the perimeter.

And now, after losing twice in Louisiana, UTSA has returned home to face Southern Miss tonight and Saturday. Likely, some of the same problems UTSA has encountered all season defensively will crop up again this weekend.

But if I’m reading the Roadrunners right, I think they might take a crack at another strategy. I think they might ask their best offensive players, including Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace, to start attacking on the dribble a little more. Get them going to the bucket more.

UTSA coach Steve Henson said the team has worked the past two weeks on initiating more of that action offensively in an effort to make defenses work harder and, perhaps, foul more.

“We know that we’ve got to defend better,” Henson said. “But I still think that, offensively, we have a lot of room to improve. I really do. I think we can get easier shots … If we do that, we know that’ll help our defense.

Jacob Germany. UTSA beat North Texas 77-69 in a Conference USA game on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Center Jacob Germany is shooting 84.8 percent from the free throw line. But he’s taking only 2.5 per game. Seems the Roadrunners could get more production out of him if he was on the line more.. — Photo by Joe Alexander

“We tried to go all year the other way. We talked about defending at a certain level regardless of what’s happening on the other end. But, still, there’s something to be said for seeing that ball go through the net. It feeds your defensive energy. That’s kind of been our issue.

“We just don’t lock in and defend at a high enough level night in and night out, possession after possession after possession, to carry ourselves through those stretches where we’re not good offensively.”

In other words, you can’t always stop a good offensive player or a good offense. But if you can work those same players and get them in foul trouble, then, maybe they become less aggressive.

The ploy seems to have worked for UTSA’s opponents, who have outscored UTSA 211-157 at the free throw line this season. In fact, opponents have made more free throws this year than UTSA has attempted (209).

On average, the Roadrunners are taking only 16.07 free throws per game, to opponents’ 21.38. They’re making 12.07, to opponents’ 16.23.

Jordan Ivy-Curry. UTSA beat North Texas 77-69 in a Conference USA game on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA freshman Jordan Ivy-Curry has emerged as another player with dribble-drive capability for the Roadrunners, who are being outscored 16.2-12.1 at the free throw line this season. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Jackson and Wallace are both taking and making fewer free throws than they have in years past.

Jackson’s free-throw attempts are down — 5.68 to 3.16 per game — from last year to this year. His makes are also down, 4.84 to 2.41. As for Wallace, it’s the same thing. He attempted 3.87 at the line last year, compared to 2.61 right now. His makes have declined, 3.12-1.92.

Discussing his team’s offensive execution this week, Henson admitted that his team has been lacking the element of finishing possessions with drives toward the basket, which tend to lead to more frequent trips to the line.

Outside of Jackson, Wallace and freshman Jordan Ivy-Curry, UTSA just doesn’t have many players with that skillset.

Nevertheless, Henson seems determined to generate more action like that. He said that for the past few weeks, he’s tried to draw up some new things, “trying to create those alleys, trying to create opportunities to get down hill.”

Would he like to see Jackson and Wallace, his senior leaders, get a little more aggressive in that way?

“Yes,” the coach said. “Something has to precede that, though. The set itself has to clear out space. Or you need the roll guy, Jacob (Germany), needs to roll. You got to hit him on the roll, to attract some attention. You can’t just say, ‘Hey, Keaton and Jhivvan, you’ve got to be more aggressive.’

“You have to set that up with some movement, some rubs. You got to create some opportunities to get downhill.”

For Henson, sending his stars into the lane on a few more possessions, instead of watching them take tough threes, might not be the answer for all that ails his team.

But, with a third of the conference season in the books, it’s worth a try.

Who knows?

UTSA opponents might find it much tougher to score if they’re on the bench in foul trouble.

Last place? UTSA hosts Southern Miss, hoping to make amends

Steve Henson. UTSA beat North Texas 77-69 in a Conference USA game on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Steve Henson (right) hopes to get his team turned around this weekend after losing five of six to open the C-USA schedule. — Photo by Joe Alexander

As the last-place UTSA Roadrunners prepare to host the Southern Miss Golden Eagles this weekend, players and coaches are like sailors at sea, peering out over the bow at rolling waves crashing higher and higher on the side of the ship.

They have felt the winds gust and the rain sting their faces at times over the past few years, but nothing like what they have experienced lately.

The Roadrunners (5-8, 1-5 in Conference USA) are off to their rockiest start to a conference schedule in eight years. Veteran fans of the men’s basketball program need to flip through the pages of history to 2012-13, when their team opened with seven straight losses in the Western Athletic Conference, to find a tougher start.

In addition, UTSA has never been four games under .500 after six games in seven previous seasons in the C-USA. But it is notable that Coach Steve Henson started 2017-18 at 2-4 and finished his second year in the program with an 11-7 ledger in the conference.

Last week, the Roadrunners left town, coming off a home victory over North Texas, and lost twice in two days at Louisiana Tech. With little time to wring hands over seeing themselves in last place in the seven-team, C-USA West Division standings, they did what they always do, win or lose.

They went back to practice.

“I think our mindset is pretty good,” Henson said. “You know, disappointed that we didn’t play a little better. Realistic to know that we got to shore some things up. Got to play harder defensively. Got to execute better offensively. Got to shoot better shots.

“But (players) came in with the right mindset. We’ve had some good stretches of practice the last couple of days.”

A sense of urgency could be detected in a Wednesday afternoon zoom call, with junior forward Phoenix Ford talking about working through “a little” adversity as they fine tune for the Golden Eagles.

“It’s definitely a concern, but not too much of a concern where we’re worried or panicking, but there’s definitely a little adversity,” junior forward Phoenix Ford said. “Definitely didn’t expect to start the conference like this, for sure. Just have to bounce back and win the next ones.”

Coming up

Southern Miss at UTSA, Friday, 6 p.m.
Southern Miss at UTSA, Saturday, 3 p.m.


Southern Miss 7-6, 3-3
UTSA 5-8, 1-5

Archibald, Louisiana Tech romp past UTSA, 82-66

Guard Amorie Archibald was a perfect 4-for-4 on three-point shots in the first half Saturday night en route to a 22-point performance. Likewise, his Louisiana Tech Bulldogs teammates made it look easy in throttling the UTSA Roadrunners, 82-66.

While UTSA’s offense sputtered for most of the night, the Bulldogs sank 14 threes and shot 49 percent from the field to sweep both games from the Roadrunners in a Conference USA series at the Thomas Assembly Center in Ruston, La.

The Bulldogs jumped on the Roadrunners early for the second time in two nights. On Friday night, they pushed out to a 25-12 lead, lost some momentum and the lead in the second half and then gathered themselves for a 77-66 victory.

A night later, they surged 17-3 at the outset, held a 20-7 margin with 10:10 remaining and went on to lead the rest of the way.

Once again, UTSA’s early shooting was not great. The Roadrunners missed their first 14 of 15 attempts from the field. Finally they got it going and finished the half, 13 of 37, including 8 of 16 from three. Keaton Wallace hit three long balls in the late surge, as the Roadrunners pulled to within five at intermission.

In the second half, the Roadrunners hung around and pulled within six with 7:15 remaining on a Jhivvan Jackson three-pointer. But the Bulldogs rattled off seven points in a row at that point to take charge.

Inexplicably, UTSA’s impatience on offense fueled the surge, taking three ill-advised shots in a row, one of them leading to an Isaiah Crawford three-pointer and another setting up another Crawford bucket, this one an eight-foot, stick back off an offensive rebound.

All of a sudden, LA Tech led 68-55 with 5:20 remaining. UTSA never got closer than eight the rest of the way to remain winless on the road (0-7) this season.

Louisiana Tech played for the second straight night without its leading scorer, guard Kalob Ledoux, who sat out with an injury.


UTSA finished with a season-low 33.8 shooting from the field (22 of 65). Jackson and Wallace combined to take 40 of the shots, making only 11. Wallace finished with 22 points and Jackson 14. Jacob Germany, a 6-foot-11 sophomore, had seven points on a 3 of 8 night afield. Louisiana Tech hit 25 of 51 as a team and spread out the scoring among several players. Crawford finished with 15 points and Kenneth Lofton, Jr., a freshman from Port Arthur, produced 12. The 6-foot-7, 280-pound Lofton also pulled down 13 rebounds.


“We started the game so poorly offensively…Hung in there. Hung in there. Yeah, they were bombing in threes the whole game. Never really stopped,” UTSA coach Steve Henson told the team’s radio broadcast. The coach said some of Louisiana Tech’s open perimeter shots came as a result of UTSA double-teaming in the post, but others were cases where defenders “were there (in position to defend), just not aggressively enough contesting.”

After the poor start offensively, Henson said his players strung together some good possessions with ball movement. But in the second half, the decision-making was questionable. “We don’t get anything inside,” Henson said. “We can’t drive it and get fouled. That element is lacking for us. (If) we’re settling for hard, contested shots, it’s going to be rough.”


UTSA 5-8, 1-5 (7th place in the 7-team C-USA West)
Louisiana Tech 11-4, 4-2 (tied for 3rd, C-USA West)
Note: Six teams from the West and East divisions qualify for the C-USA tournament)

Coming up

Southern Miss at UTSA, Friday, 6 p.m.
Southern Miss at UTSA, Saturday, 3 p.m.

Louisiana Tech rallies at home for a 77-66 victory over UTSA

Chalk this one up as a missed opportunity.

Jhivvan Jackson was on fire. The UTSA Roadrunners were up by six with just under 10 minutes left. And the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs were without injured leading scorer Kalob Ledoux.

It didn’t matter. The Bulldogs shut down the Roadrunners’ offense down the stretch and cruised to a 77-66 Conference USA victory at the Thomas Assembly Center, in Ruston, La.

Louisiana Tech closed on a 21-4 run in the final 9:18, improving to 10-4 on the season and to 3-2 in the C-USA. On the cusp of what might have been its first road win of the year, UTSA nevertheless fell to 5-7 and 1-4.

Amorie Archibald led the Bulldogs with 19 points, followed by Jacolby Pemberton with 18. Boosting the play of the two guards, 6-foot-10, 260-pound center Andrew Gordon scored 14 off the bench, including 10 in the last five minutes of the game.

Jackson, NCAA Division I’s leader in career scoring among active players, finished with 25 points to lead the Roadrunners. Keaton Wallace had 18. Jacob Germany, UTSA’s third leading scorer behind Jackson and Wallace, was held to two points.


UTSA’s offense was humming, having hit six shots in a row, when a drought cost the team the game. The Roadrunners connected on only 2 of 13 in the final 9:21. UTSA didn’t enjoy the best of fortune during the fateful stretch as Jackson hoisted three or four that looked like they were going in, only to dance around on the rim and then lip out.


UTSA coach Steve Henson said it was a “difficult stretch” during which he thinks the Roadrunners lost some of their composure. “Just didn’t get good shots,” he told the team’s radio broadcast. “I mean, Jhivvan had the hot hand. Obviously, we tried to keep riding that when we could. Sometimes when a guy takes over like that, then everybody gets caught watching. We needed him to keep going. But we needed someone else to step up there. We couldn’t get that done.

“We talk about our concerns defensively. We got to be a better defensive team. I get frustrated with our offense. We’re in a position to win a game on the road against a great team. We come down there and don’t compete, don’t execute for a good shots. Again, Keaton and Jhivvan can hit shots that look hard. But we still got to get the ball moving and take the right types of shots in those situations.”

By the numbers

Among the UTSA starters, Jackson and Wallace combined for 43 points. But the three others — Jacob Germany, Eric Parrish and Erik Czumbel — scored only four between them. Cedrick Alley Jr., who has missed time lately with a groin injury, returned to play 17 minutes. He scored eight points on 3 of 5 shooting. Freshman guard Jordan Ivy-Curry finished with nine points on 4 of 7 shooting. He also had three rebounds and an assist in 20 minutes. With the loss, UTSA fell to 0-6 on the road. In conference play, UTSA has two road losses at Rice, a split at home against North Texas and now another road loss at Louisiana Tech.


UTSA 5-7, 1-4
Louisiana Tech 10-4, 3-2

Coming up

UTSA at Louisiana Tech, Saturday, 6 p.m.

True to the nickname, ‘Juice’ brings a spark to UTSA

Jordan Ivy-Curry. UTSA beat North Texas 77-69 in a Conference USA game on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA freshman Jordan Ivy-Curry averaged 31.5 points last year as a senior for the Class 4A La Marque High School Cougars. — Photo by Joe Alexander

His given name is Jordan Ivy-Curry. But all his friends at UTSA call him “Juice.” As in, plug him into a basketball game and feel the electricity. How did he get the nickname?

“Around seventh or eighth grade, playing at a park in the neighborhood,” the UTSA freshman said. “You know, I was playing against some grown-ups. Shooting the ball. Making a lot of shots. It was like, ‘You got the juice.’ So ever since then, they been calling me ‘Juice.’ ”

Getting a nickname is a badge of honor in the Houston area, where Ivy-Curry grew up. Back in the ‘60s, they had David “Big Daddy” Lattin, who went on to lead the Texas Western College Miners to the 1966 NCAA title.

In the ‘80s, they had Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon on a couple of Final Four teams at the University of Houston, along with Clyde “The Glide” Drexler and Larry “Mr. Mean” Michaux.

Ivy-Curry started to turn heads on the playground when he was 11. Within a few years, he gravitated to games with players much older. With high school-age players. Though he was under-sized, he challenged himself.

“Yeah, I got some buckets,” Ivy-Curry recalled. “Two from half court.”

Years later, playing for the La Marque High School Cougars, “Juice” continued to shoot it. He had the green light and the skills to rack up more than 2,000 points in his career, eclipsing 50 points in a game three times as a senior last season.

At UTSA, the scoring machines in residence are seniors by the name of Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace. “Juice” plays off the bench in a supporting role for the Roadrunners, averaging a modest 5.8 points in 15.5 minutes per game.

But to a certain extent, those numbers belie his value to the team.

With the Roadrunners scheduled to play on Friday and Saturday at Louisiana Tech, the freshman has emerged as a player who has seen court time in the second half in all four of UTSA’s Conference USA games, including crunch-time minutes in a 77-69 victory over North Texas last Saturday.

In one memorable sequence, sophomore guard Erik Czumbel fired a skip pass cross the court to Ivy-Curry. As a North Texas defender ran at the UTSA freshman, he dribbled into open space and lobbed it up for center Jacob Germany, who dunked it.

“It felt good,” Ivy-Curry said. “I felt like, when I made that play, it brought the team energy up, the crowd energy up. We just had the momentum our way. Just a great feeling. Even though I had zero points (in the game) I felt like I had five points on that play.”

Germany called Ivy-Curry “a great player,” who will get better as the years go by. “In high school, he was a huge scorer, and I could see him doing that here in a year or two,” the sophomore from Oklahoma said. “For him, it’s just experience and confidence.”

When told that Ivy-Curry had mentioned playing against older players as a young man, Henson smiled, because he has seen some of that competitive fire from him in practices already.

“He’s got that right level of confidence, swag,” Henson said. “He respects Jhivvan and Keaton. He tries to get after ‘em in practice every day. He’s usually matched up with one of those two guys, and he fights and competes. Got a great deal of confidence. He just plays. It’s kind of refreshing.”

Continued Henson: “He reads situations well. His instincts offensively are very, very good. Defensively, he’s conscientious. He’s trying to learn our schemes. Trying to work on his habits. Yeah, he’s fun. He’s fun at practice.

“(We) had a practice prior to North Texas, and at the end of a segment he rattled off 10 straight. Two threes and two twos. Just like it was nothing. It doesn’t really even phase us that he does that. He’s just such a natural scorer.”

He is the “Juice.”

Coming up

UTSA at Louisiana Tech, 6:30 p.m., Friday
UTSA at Louisiana Tech, 6 p.m., Saturday


UTSA 5-6, 1-3
Louisiana Tech 9-4, 2-2

Beating the blues: UTSA whips North Texas to snap three-game skid

UTSA's Jhivvan Jackson celebrates with teammate Jaja Sanni after the Roadrunners' 77-69 victory over North Texas on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA’s Jhivvan Jackson celebrates with teammate Jaja Sanni after the Roadrunners’ 77-69 victory over North Texas. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Another bout with the basketball blues loomed for the UTSA Roadrunners.

One more week with a bad feeling in the pit of the stomach, followed by grinding practices and lingering questions about the viability of the ball club.

Trailing by one point at home against the North Texas Mean Green with 3:38 remaining, the Roadrunners were on the brink of getting swept in a two-game series for the second week in a row.

It didn’t happen. In perhaps a pivotal moment in their season, they deployed a small lineup, executed well on both ends of the floor and claimed a 77-69 victory Saturday over the Mean Green for their first win in Conference USA.

UTSA center Jacob Germany throws down a dunk with 2:18 left to give UTSA a 69-65 lead in a 77-69 victory over North Texas on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA center Jacob Germany throws down a dunk with 2:18 left to give UTSA a 69-65 lead. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“It was great,” UTSA guard Keaton Wallace said. “We had guys making good plays. We were knocking down shots and getting stops. All the way down to the end.

“Those are the type of games that feel good, that you worked really hard for. That was a good victory right there.”

Guard Jhivvan Jackson led the way with 31 points, including 26 in the second half. He also had six rebounds. Center Jacob Germany scored 16 and Wallace 14. Javion Hamlet had 18 for the Mean Green, but he was held in check with 5 of 14 shooting. As a team, the Mean Green hit only 38 percent, well below their season average of 49.5.

A bumpy ride

Despite an erratic summer caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, UTSA entered the season feeling good about its chances. But ever since games got underway in the last week of November, it’s been a bumpy ride. The team endured a couple of ugly losses at UT Rio Grande Valley and Oklahoma, and then rebounded with two straight victories leading into the C-USA phase of the schedule.

Last week in Houston against the Rice Owls, the Roadrunners gave up a combined 179 points and lost twice.

Returning home, they played better on the defensive end Friday night but watched at the end of the game as the Mean Green pulled out a 77-70 victory. With the decision, UTSA dropped to 0-3 in conference for the first time in the Steve Henson coaching era.

UTSA coach Steve Henson talks to an official after a foul called on the Roadrunners in the final minutes of their 77-69 victory over North Texas on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Steve Henson talks to an official after a foul called on the Roadrunners in the final minutes. Henson went with a four-guard lineup down the stretch. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Moreover, the Roadrunners didn’t have much time to adjust for Game 2 against the defending C-USA champions. They were back on the court early Saturday morning for a shootaround and then reported to the arena a few hours later for a 3 p.m. start. None of it mattered.

Trailing by three at intermission, UTSA outscored North Texas 46-35 in the second half, including 15-6 in the final three minutes, to make something of a statement. So, instead of traveling winless in conference to Louisiana Tech next week, the Roadrunners (5-6, 1-3) they will travel with some confidence.

Making progress

“It’s really big,” Henson said. “In this context, it feels like it’s more than one game, simply because of the nature of it. You go on the road, lose two to Rice. Looking ahead, you see North Texas on the schedule. Then you see LA Tech on the schedule. It was pretty important. You know, LA Tech’s loaded. We understand that.

“It was very, very important (to win today). It reinforced what we’ve been telling them. We think we’re making progress.”

Keaton Wallace. UTSA beat North Texas 77-69 in a Conference USA game on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Keaton Wallace hit two three-point buckets in the Roadrunners’ closing run. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Henson paused to consider the statistics sheet, particularly the second-half numbers. He liked what he saw.

“Second-half field goal percentage for them — 30 percent,” he said. “Second-half field goal percentage for us — 60 percent … That gives us something to hang our hat on.”

Playing small ball

With the teams trading runs for most of the second half, North Texas got into foul trouble, sat down big man Zachary Simmons and went with a smaller lineup. Henson answered by going small himself, using Jhivvan Jackson, Erik Czumbel, Jordan Ivy-Curry and Wallace, along with either Phoenix Ford or Jacob Germany.

The Roadrunners clicked. In the final three minutes, Ivy-Curry found Germany rolling to the rim and lobbed it up high for a dunk. Wallace hit a couple of threes. Jackson knocked down three of four free throws.


UTSA 5-6, 1-3
North Texas 5-5, 1-1

Coming up

UTSA at Louisiana Tech, Friday, 6:30 p.m.
UTSA at Louisiana Tech, Saturday, 6 p.m.

UTSA’s Jhivvan Jackson, the school’s all-time leading scorer, leaps to block a shot by North Texas guard JJ Murray midway through the second half. Jackson played all 40 minutes of games Friday night and Saturday afternoon. He scored 31 points Saturday, finishing his weekend’s work with 57.

UTSA vs. North Texas photo gallery

UTSA's Keaton Wallace (top left) and Eric Parrish (bottom right) wrestle with North Texas' Thomas Bell (bottom left) for a loose ball on Saturday at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA’s Keaton Wallace (top left) and Eric Parrish (bottom right) wrestle with North Texas’ Thomas Bell (bottom left) for a loose ball on Saturday at the Convocation Center.

UTSA took the lead for good with 3:23 left in the game to beat North Texas 77-69 in a Conference USA game on Saturday at the Convocation Center. Jhivvan Jackson led UTSA with 31 points, Jacob Germany had 16 and Keaton Wallace had 14.

Sorting through a few issues before North Texas-UTSA, Part II

Jhivvan Jackson. UTSA lost to North Texas 77-70 in Conference USA action on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Weaving his way through traffic, pulling up for floaters or hitting from deep, Jhivvan Jackson scored 26 points in 40 minutes Friday night. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Good afternoon, all.

I wanted to drop a few opinions here in the lead-up to North Texas-UTSA, Part II. The Mean Green defeated the Roadrunners 77-70 in Game 1 of a two-game, Conference USA series Friday night at the Convocation Center. The two ball clubs meet again today, in the same arena, on UTSA’s home floor. Tipoff is at 3 p.m.

First of all, North Texas looks like a team capable of winning another championship. The Mean Green have everything. A point guard who runs the show. Players who can pass it and catch it. Players who are smart and know what to do when they’re under pressure. Players who defend aggressively. Point guard Javion Hamlet? He’s a handful. Forwards Thomas Bell and Zachary Simmons? I don’t remember them being game-changers last season, but they were Friday night.

Keaton Wallace had 12 points in the second half and 14 for the game for UTSA in Friday's Conference USA loss to North Texas at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Keaton Wallace

Next, I go back and forth between notions that the Roadrunners can be a good team this year, or, alternately, that they lack the right pieces in place to make a serious run in March. When my my thoughts drift to the second part of that notion, I think, what are they missing? Well, maybe they need a creative point guard, a distributor, an assertive force who can take over a game without shooting.

In Jhivvan Jackson, Keaton Wallace and Erik Czumbel, they have three really talented combo guards. Jackson and Wallace are at their best when they can roam the perimeter for catch-and-shoot opportunities. The faster the pace, the better.

Wallace and Czumbel are excellent defensively. But the offense tends to bog down when either runs the point for too long. Jackson is the best distributor and is the most creative of the three on the dribble. But if he brings it up time after time, his effectiveness as one of the nation’s best scorers decreases.

Alternately, I tend to think that the Roadrunners may, in time, work all this out in the coming weeks. Maybe they’ll mesh all their talents together and rip off a series of victories. It has a chance to happen, I think, if a couple of things happen. First, I’d like to see Jackson start at an off-guard position as he did Friday night. Give him the green light to shoot until he gets hot. Same with Wallace.

Both are smart enough players to be able to keep their teammates involved. But the team is built on their talents. Let them go to work. As for Czumbel, he’s starting to get more aggressive when he brings the ball up or when he runs the half court offense. Just give him some time to grow.

Next, they’ll be instantly better on defense when Cedrick Alley, Jr., returns to full speed. Right now, he’s limited with a groin injury. Remember, last week at Rice, Alley enjoyed a great first half before the groin tightened up on him. Get him back in the flow, and he could become a force as a two-way player, an aggressive defender and rebounder, and also one who can also knock down shots.

Today, the Mean Green probably have the edge. Jackson played 40 minutes Friday night. Weaving his way through traffic, finding open spaces, rising up for clever shots in the mid-range, UTSA’s all-time scoring leader was as good as he’s ever been. It may be too much to ask him to do that again in 18 hours. So, others will need to play well. But, as mentioned, North Texas looks like it’s built of championship timber. UTSA is still building.

Jackson scores 26 for UTSA, but North Texas wins, 77-70

Jhivvan Jackson. UTSA lost to North Texas 77-70 in Conference USA action on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jhivvan Jackson carried UTSA offensively with 26 points, but a rally fell short at the end, and the Roadrunners dropped to 0-3 in Conference USA. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Despite a spirited effort and comeback in the second-half Friday night, the UTSA Roadrunners failed to capitalize on an opportunity to beat the defending champions in Conference USA.

The North Texas Mean Green made just enough plays in the final two minutes to hold off the Roadrunners 77-70 in Game 1 of a two-game C-USA series at the Convocation Center.

Keaton Wallace. UTSA lost to North Texas 77-70 in Conference USA action on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA senior Keaton Wallace scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half. — Photo by Joe Alexander

With the loss, UTSA starts the conference phase of the schedule at 0-3 for the first time in Steve Henson’s five seasons as head coach of the Roadrunners.

The coach, however, was hardly discouraged.

“If we play with this mindset,” Henson said, “I think we’ll have an opportunity to win some games. To come within one point and not finish it off was disappointing. We’ll just have to play a little better.”

The Roadrunners will get another opportunity right away, with the second game of the back-to-back set for 3 p.m. Saturday at UTSA.

“We’re just trying to stay positive,” said UTSA guard Jhivvan Jackson, who led the Roadrunners with 26 points and played the entire 40 minutes. “We can’t be dreading it too long. We know what to do. We were already talking about it in the locker room.”

Early in the second half, North Texas moved out to a 14-point lead on UTSA and looked as if it might run away with the victory. A three-pointer by Mean Green guard Mardrez McBride made it 48-34.

From there, the Roadrunners steadied themselves and started chipping away. Back-to-back three-pointers from Jordan Ivy-Curry pulled UTSA to within eight with 7:47 left.

When Keaton Wallace hit a 15 footer, a free throw and scored on a strong drive, it was a one-point game, with the Mean Green clinging to a 69-68 lead.

At that juncture, the game turned in North Texas’ favor.

For UTSA, Jackson misfired on two three-point shots and Wallace one. North Texas, meanwhile knocked down six of eight at the free-throw line for a 74-68 lead with 48 seconds left.

The Roadrunners never came closer than five the rest of the way.

Coming up

North Texas at UTSA, Saturday, 3 p.m.,

UTSA's Jordan Ivy Curry scored eight points off the bench as North Texas beat UTSA 77-70 in Conference USA action on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA’s Jordan Ivy-Curry scored eight points off the bench. Ivy-Curry could see more floor time Saturday after Jhivvan Jackson played all 40 minutes in Game 1 of the C-USA series. – Photo by Joe Alexander


North Texas 5-4, 1-0
UTSA 4-6, 0-3

UTSA at a glance

Jackson, 26 points on 11 of 24 shooting; Keaton Wallace, 14 points on four of nine, also four rebounds and three assists; Jacob Germany, 10 points and eight rebounds, with three of nine shooting. Jordan Ivy-Curry, eight points off the bench, including two threes late. As a team, UTSA shot 50 percent from the field in the second half and finished at 41.3. Battling a groin injury, junior forward Cedrick Alley played only eight minutes, scoring two points.

North Texas at a glance

Thomas Bell, 17 points, five rebounds, three assists and three blocks. Bell hit seven for nine afield and three for four from three. Javion Hamlet, 15 points, including five on free throws in the last minute. Also, 6 rebounds and 5 assists; Zachary Simmons, 13 points, including nine in the second half. Also, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Mardrez McBride, 13 points on four threes. As a team, the Mean Green made 51.9 percent of their shots. In the second half, North Texas shot 56.5 percent.

UTSA vs. North Texas photo gallery

Jhivvan Jackson scored a team-high 26 points for UTSA in Friday's Conference USA loss to North Texas at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jhivvan Jackson scored 26 points, but it wasn’t enough as North Texas closed out a close game down the stretch and dropped UTSA to 0-3 in conference.

Defending Conference USA champion North Texas beat UTSA 77-70 in Conference USA on Friday at the Convocation Center. UTSA and North Texas play again Saturday at 3 p.m.