UTSA makes just enough plays to hold off the St. Mary’s Rattlers

Coming off a 20-point loss to the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders, the UTSA Roadrunners entered their third game of the season Monday night needing a defensive spark, some solid execution on the offensive end and a quality shooting performance.

All of that, leading to a run-away victory, would have been nice. But in keeping with history in a rivalry that dates back nearly 40 years, the NCAA Division II-level St. Mary’s University Rattlers showed up at the Convocation Center with other ideas.

Division I UTSA survived a shaky start and a hand-wringing finish to polish off San Antonio-based St. Mary’s, 66-59.

John Buggs III. UTSA beat St. Mary's 66-59 on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Guard John Buggs III sparked UTSA’s 14-0 run to start the second half. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Fortunately for the Roadrunners, guard Japhet Medor, center Jacob Germany and freshman guard DJ Richards made a few plays at the end to salvage the victory. UTSA coach Steve Henson said in his postgame commentary that “there weren’t a ton of positives” to the performance.

“I can’t spin too positively,” the coach said. “St. Mary’s is good. I got a lot of respect for what they do and how tough they are. How well-coached they are. They did some things to keep it right there (within their reach).”

“The positive,” Henson added, “was that we found a way to get the win.”

St. Mary’s (0-2) played the game as an exhibition, so it didn’t count on the Rattlers’ record. But the game did count for UTSA (2-1) on a night when the Roadrunners were trying to bounce back from a poor performance in Corpus Christi.

Though the Roadrunners traveled to the Coastal Bend last Friday, it was hardly a day at the beach. UTSA held an eight-point lead in the second half on a 23-win, Division I NCAA tournament team from last year. After that, Corpus Christi romped 47-19 in the final 17 minutes to win 75-55.

As a result, Roadrunners guard John Buggs III fielded a few questions in the wake of the St. Mary’s game about the team’s inconsistency. His answer was the same. At times, he said, UTSA goes through “stretches” when things go wrong on both ends of the floor.

“We have to limit those windows,” Buggs said.

Added Henson, “We have a lot of work to do. A lot of work.”

Jacob Germany. UTSA beat St. Mary's 66-59 on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jacob Germany sank 6 of 11 from the field and scored 14 points for the Roadrunners. John Buggs III also scored 14. — Photo by Joe Alexander

The Roadrunners, who were shooting 37.8 percent from the field coming into the night, finished 25 of 55 for 45.5 percent. Hitting only 20.3 percent from three in their first two games combined, they were better in that department, as well, making 8 of 19 for 42.1 percent. Germany and Buggs led the team with 14 points apiece.

It’s a good thing that UTSA made some improvement, because its next opponent — the defending Sun Belt Conference champion Texas State Bobcats — will be dangerous. The Bobcats are set to pay a visit to the Convocation Center on Thursday night.

“Texas State is really good,” Henson said. “They got great identity-culture. You know they’re going to defend really aggressively. They’re super solid defensively. Offensively, they typically run great movement, great motion … They had a big win at Rhode Island a couple of nights ago.

“They’ve got a couple of really big challenges for us. The emphasis will be defending and rebounding. Offensively, we’re going to be a young work in progress. Still think we’ve got the potential to be a pretty good offensive team in time. Defensively, we’ve got to take some steps.”

For St. Mary’s, the game could serve as a springboard into the rest of its pre-Lone Star Conference schedule. The Rattlers were beaten twice in Colorado last weekend. They lost 87-65 to Colorado School of Mines on Friday and then came up short, 60-56, falling to Regis College, Colo.

St. Mary's Emmanuel Ewuzie. UTSA beat St. Mary's 66-59 on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

St. Mary’s forward Emmanuel Ewuzie had a big game with 14 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Against the Roadrunners, the Rattlers seemed to hit their stride. Forward Emmanuel Ewuzie had a big night with 14 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots. Guard Ryan Leonard finished with 11 points and seven rebounds. Off the bench, Diego Gonzalez scored seven and John Dawson six.

St. Mary’s came out strong, executing the offense and scoring the game’s first five points. The Rattlers kept it going for most of the first half, pushing the lead to as many as eight with 2:47 remaining.

At that point, UTSA started to creep back into the game. The Roadrunners scored seven in a row at the end of the half and then roared away on a 14-0 run to start the second.

Buggs ignited the second-half surge, hitting a couple of threes and a two. Forward Josh Farmer, who made his first start of the season, capped the streak with a wild play. After Farmer missed a dunk, Richards rebounded it. Farmer finally put it in the hoop for a 46-33 lead.

Down the stretch, the Rattlers wouldn’t fold.

They continued to scrap for rebounds and dive on the floor for loose balls. They hit some difficult shots in traffic. UTSA was also energized. They hit the boards with much more aggression. UTSA also got a big call when St. Mary’s foward Tyler Caron made a shot but had it waved off for charg

On the other end, Richards hit a three for a 10-point lead. Undaunted, St. Mary’s kept coming. The Rattlers chipped away and, with 1:01 remaining, Ewuzie hit a free that pulled the visitors to within two.

From there, Medor orchestrated the finish for the Roadrunners. He worked hard against the Rattlers’ trapping defense, and the Roadrunners survived, going on a 5-0 run to finish the game. Germany knocked down a shot and hit a free throw. On a free-throw miss, Richards snared a rebound and was fouled, sinking both with 30 seconds left to seal it.

Records

UTSA 2-1
St. Mary’s 0-2

Notable

With the victory, UTSA improved to 11-3 all-time in the series against St. Mary’s. The series between San Antonio-based universities started in 1984 as the “Mayor’s Challenge Cup.” Played initially in a downtown arena in the 1980s, the games have always been close. Only four of the 14 games have been decided by margins of more than 10 points.

Coming up

Texas State at UTSA, Thursday, 7 p.m.
Huston-Tillotson at St. Mary’s, Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

Hitting hyper-speed

Sabally to Aleu — for two

St. Mary’s and UTSA to play for San Antonio bragging rights

The UTSA Roadrunners (1-1) are back home tonight to play the St. Mary’s Rattlers (0-2). The game is an exhibition for NCAA Division II St. Mary’s and won’t count on the Rattlers’ record. Here is a look at the series between the two programs, which dates back to the 1983-84 season.

Series at a glance

2/6/84 — UTSA, 69-61
1/21/85 — St. Mary’s, 88-81
1/13/86 — UTSA, 76-67
1/26/87 — St. Mary’s, 68-55
1/20/88 — UTSA, 84-74
1/24/89 — UTSA, 58-48
12/12/89 — UTSA, 79-52
1/18/90 — UTSA, 63-58
1/21/91 — St. Mary’s, 65-46
12/7/91 — UTSA, 62-52
11/25/00 — UTSA, 61-55
12/4/02 — UTSA, 81-67
11/29/21 — UTSA, 75-65

Notable

The early games in the series were played downtown at the HemisFair Arena, a building that has been demolished to make way for new construction. (The old arena sat on property that is now part of the Convention Center complex.) The game in December 2002 was played at the Alamodome. The games in November 2000 and November 2021 were played at the UTSA Convocation Center.

That’s a fact

The Roadrunners haven’t shot the ball well in their first two games, in a 74-47 victory over Division III Trinity last Monday or in a 75-55 loss at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi last Friday.

Three-point shooting has been a particular concern. UTSA hit only 5 of 30 from behind the arc in the opener and 7 of 29 last Friday at Corpus Christi. For the season, that makes them 12 of 59 for 20.3 percent. UTSA field goal shooting is a cool 37.8 percent — 48 of 127.

Defensively, it’s also a mixed bag. The Roadrunners had been playing good defense until the second half against the Islanders,who shot 56 percent and exploded for 50 points after intermission.

Mushila, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi down UTSA, 75-55

The UTSA Roadrunners knew coming into Friday night’s game in Corpus Christi that they would need to keep Isaac Mushila off the glass, and they still couldn’t do it.

Mushila, a 6-foot-5 senior forward, poured in 22 points and pulled down 16 rebounds to lead the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders past the Roadrunners, 75-55, at the Dugan Wellness Center.

A relentless player, Mushila basically matched his effort from last season when he produced 21 points and 17 rebounds in a 77-58 victory over the Roadrunners in San Antonio.

This time, he exploded in the second half to spark a huge rally by the home team, lifting A&M-Corpus Christi (1-1) to its first victory of the season.

“Isaac played great considering they doubled the post a little bit,” Islanders coach Steve Lutz said on the ESPN Plus television broadcast. “I just thought he worked at a high level.”

At one point, UTSA (1-1) led by eight points early in the second half and appeared to be taking charge against a 23-win, NCAA tournament team from last year.

The Islanders, however, had other ideas. Mushila kept pounding the glass and scored 14 points in the second half to lead the comeback.

Behind Mushila, Trevian Tennyson and others, A&M-Corpus Christi outscored UTSA 47-19 in the final 17:30 to turn what had been a highly-competitive game into a run-away.

“Second half was pretty disappointing,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said on the team’s radio broadcast. “Exact opposite of what we did the first half. Second half, they drove it over and over and over … just absolutely bullied us. It wasn’t even close.”

Freshman DJ Richards led UTSA with 14 points. Japhet Medor and Jacob Germany also had nine for the Roadrunners, who hit 33.3 percent from the field for the game. Leading by three at intermission, UTSA came out strong early in the second half.

The Roadrunners got a field goal and a three-pointer from Medor. John Buggs III followed with a three to make it 36-28. From there, it was all A&M-Corpus Christi the rest of the way, with the Islanders shooting 58.6 percent from the field in the second half.

Asked by radio voice Andy Everett what he would work on leading into a Monday night home game against the Division II St. Mary’s Rattlers, Henson said he might need to re-think his defensive approach.

“Getting tougher is a hard thing to work on, but we’ll try to figure out something in that regard,” the coach said. “We’ve got a lot to work on. We’ve got to make a decision. Defensively, we’ve been man to man since June. We’ve got to figure out if we’re good enough.

“We were good enough man to man in the first half, but we weren’t any good in the second half. So, we got to figure out a lot of things. It’s not time to panic. But this is a disappointing result. An extremely disappointing 20 minutes of basketball.”

Records

UTSA 1-1
A&M-Corpus Christi 1-1

Coming up

St. Mary’s University at UTSA, Monday, 7 p.m.
Trinity University at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, at American Bank Center, 7 p.m.

Notable

For the UTSA offense to work, the Roadrunners need to make threes, and they had a hard time doing that in a smaller venue, at A&M-Corpus Christi’s campus recreation center.

UTSA was 7 of 29 from three for the game, for 24.1 percent. DJ Richards emerged as the only reliable shooter from distance, hitting 4 of 7. Meanwhile, Isaiah Addo-Ankrah was 1 for 9 from behind the arc, and Buggs 1 for 8.

Normally, A&M-Corpus Christi plays its home games at the more spacious American Bank Center in the downtown area, but since the city’s minor league hockey team had the date booked in advance, officials elected to play the UTSA game on the floor of its campus facility.

First-half recap

UTSA’s defense held Texas A&M-Corpus Christi without a field goal for seven minutes late in the first half Friday night, allowing the Roadrunners to steady themselves, setting the stage for a late rally at the end of the half.

Finally, the Roadrunners, who were in a funk themselves for much of the opening period, snapped out of it with a few big plays at the end to take a 28-25 lead.

First, a dunk by John Buggs III had the Roadrunners cheering from the bench. Finally, Japhet Medor whipped a pass into the corner for freshman DJ Richards, who knocked down a three and gave UTSA a 28-25 lead at the break.

Initially, the Islanders seemed to have everything going their way. They scored nine points in a row for a 9-2 lead. Later, they made it 11-3. Then it was 20-15. Trevian Tennyson was leading the way with 12 early points. He finished the half with 5 of 8 shooting.

UTSA set to play on the road at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

The UTSA Roadrunners will face their first NCAA Division I opponent of the season tonight. Also playing on the road for the first time, UTSA (1-0) will play the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders (0-1).

Tipoff is at 7 p.m. at the Dugan Wellness Center on the A&M-Corpus Christi campus.

The Roadrunners, coming off a 74-47 victory over Division III Trinity University on Monday, hope to make a statement against a team that beat them by 19 points in San Antonio last year.

On Nov. 21, 2021, Steve Lutz-coached A&M-Corpus Christi registered a 77-58 victory over UTSA at the Convocation Center en route to a magical season, in which it won the Southland Conference postseason title and played in the NCAA tournament.

UTSA, on the other hand, suffered a down season and finished 10-22.

Led by guards Japhet Medor and John Buggs, the Roadrunners will present the Islanders with a different look.

Medor is a pass-first point guard and Buggs is capable of scoring in bunches from the perimeter.

UTSA didn’t play well offensively against Trinity, shooting only 40 percent from the field. But the defense was good for the second-straight outing, including a home exhibition against the Schreiner University Mountaineers.

Against Shreiner and Trinity, the Roadrunners have yielded only 107 points.

The Islanders will test the Roadrunners with largely the same personnel that posted a 23-12 record last season.

Guards Jalen Jackson, Simeon Fryer and Terrion Murdix will lead the attack, with 6-foot-5 rebounding force Isaac Mushila at one forward and De’Lazarus Keys at the other.

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi opened its season on the road Monday, at Starkveville, Miss., and lost 63-44 to Mississippi State of the Southeastern Conference.

The Islanders led the game by 12 points in the first half and by five at intermission before the Cowboys rallied to put the game away.

Notable

A&M-Corpus Christi is a non-football playing program in the Southland Conference. The Islanders are coached by Lutz, who played at San Antonio’s East Central High School and at Texas Lutheran University in Seguin.

UTSA plays football and all other sports in Conference USA. It’s the last season for UTSA in the C-USA as it prepares to move next year into the American Athletic Conference. The Roadrunners are led by seventh-year head coach Steve Henson.

Coming up

Both teams play again on Monday night. A&M-Corpus Christi will host Trinity at the American Bank Center. UTSA will host the Division II St. Mary’s University Rattlers in a matchup of San Antonio-based schools at UTSA.

After a dominant win over Trinity, UTSA’s players start talking about Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

The UTSA Roadrunners celebrated a 74-47 season-opening victory against the Trinity Tigers Monday night, in part, by initiating a conversation about their next opponent.

As players filed into the dressing room after the opener at the Convocation Center, the talk turned quickly to the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders.

Japhet Medor. UTSA opened the men's basketball season with a 74-47 victory over Trinity on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Point guard Japhet Medor continued his strong play with five points, five rebounds, three steals and seven assists. – Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA will play Game Two on its schedule at A&M-Corpus Christi on Friday night in a rematch of a contest played last year in San Antonio.

It’s a memory that isn’t a pleasant one for the Roadrunners’ veterans, because the Islanders dominated, 77-58.

UTSA players may also know that A&M-Corpus Christi went on to enjoy a storybook season, which ended in a Southland Conference title and a trip to the NCAA tournament.

Roadrunners newcomer Japhet Medor said some of his teammates have already told him about the Islanders’ style and personnel.

“They deny a lot of stuff,” Medor said. “They’re pretty aggressive, but we play aggressive, too. We like it.”

Medor said he thinks some of his teammates may take a scheduled off day and come in to work on their game.

“Tomorrow is an off day, and we got to treat it like it’s not an off day, to get our bodies right and get ready for Corpus Christi,” he said.

Lachlan Bofinger. UTSA opened the men's basketball season with a 74-47 victory over Trinity on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Junior forward Lachlan Bofinger came off the bench for four points and seven rebounds in a little more than 10 minutes. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Medor said he knows how teammates who played in the game last year are feeling.

“Yeah, they want some get back,” he said. “Everybody’s motivated. We’re trying to change everything. We’re trying to win. So, of course we’re ready for Friday.”

Entering the regular season, UTSA had played only one exhibition. It was a game played last Wednesday against the Schreiner University Mountaineers. In doing so, the Roadrunners revved the offense and roared to a 93-60 victory.

Like Schreiner, Trinity is also an NCAA Division III program. But against the Tigers, the Division I Roadrunners had a tougher time putting points on the scoreboard. Much tougher.

UTSA shot 51.5 percent last week against the Mountaineers, including 42.9 percent from behind the three-point arc. Against the Tigers, the Roadrunners’ percentages didn’t look nearly as pretty on field goals (40.8) or on threes (16.7).

In fact, UTSA sank only 5 of 30 from long distance against Trinity’s zone defense.

Fortunately for the Roadrunners, big men Josh Farmer (17 points, 12 rebounds) and Jacob Germany (15 points, six boards) played with poise and aggression and got the job done against the much smaller visitors.

For Farmer, it was a breakout game, his first double-double. The former Houston schoolboy averaged only 1.2 points per game last season.

Against Trinity, he scored a season high on 8 of 13 shooting from the field. In addition, he also saved several possessions with his hustle, including six offensive rebounds.

The Tigers, a 23-win team last year, were held to 30.5 percent shooting. Enzo Sechi, Trinity’s leading returning scorer, was on the roster but did not play. Ben Hanley, A.J. Clark and Grayson Herr scored six points apiece.

Records

UTSA 1-0
Trinity 0-0
x-Game played as an exhibition for Trinity. It does not count on the Tigers’ record.

Coming up

UTSA at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Friday, 7 p.m.

Jacob Germany. UTSA opened the men's basketball season with a 74-47 victory over Trinity on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Senior Jacob Germany notched 15 points on 6 of 9 shooting. He also pulled down 6 rebounds.. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Long arms of the law? Coaches encourage UTSA forwards to bring intensity, defense

Aleu Aleu. The UTSA men's basketball team lost to Louisiana Tech 79-63 on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Forward Aleu Aleu says UTSA is ready “to surprise the outside world” as the new season opens Monday night with a home game against Trinity. — File photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

The video did not lie. About five minutes into an exhibition game at the Convocation Center last Wednesday night, the UTSA Roadrunners imposed their will to create a highlight-reel moment. The play was significant for a few reasons.

First, it started with a drive to the bucket by Japhet Medor, a 6-foot newcomer who has shown on numerous occasions a knack for bringing out the best in his teammates. As Medor drove to the bucket on the right side, he threw up a floater that caromed off glass and rim. From there, 6-9 Josh Farmer made a play on it, tapping it out.

Josh Farmer, a 6-foot-9 freshman forward from Houston Sharpstown, at the first day of UTSA men's basketball practice. - photo by Joe Alexander

Josh Farmer, a 6-9 sophomore from Houston, is regarded as one of the team’s most improved players. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Lamin Sabally, at 6-8, grabbed the ball and promptly dished under the basket to Aleu Aleu. In the chaotic aftermath, a few Schreiner bodies went down like bowling pins, and the 6-8 Aleu powered up and threw down an emphatic, two-handed dunk. It was an energy play that reverberated for, basically, the rest of the half.

For the next 15 minutes or so, the Roadrunners outscored the outmanned Division III Mountaineers by 28 points. Schreiner was lacking athletically in many ways against UTSA, as expected, but it still was a good sign for the home team to see a play unfold with such dramatic effect.

“You seen the game,” Aleu said. “It was back and forth for a little bit. Then you (saw) me, Josh and Lamin come in, and coach told us to pick it up. So we got a lot of stops and converted on the offensive end. Really glad we could bring the energy. That’s what we’re here for, and we’re going to continue to do that.”

After downing Schreiner 93-60 in the exhibition, UTSA hopes to continue pressing the action, and Monday night, the regular season starts for real. Once again, the opponent is a Division III foe. It’s the cross-town Trinity Tigers, in the house for a 7 p.m. tipoff at the Convo.

Most of the attention in UTSA camp since the players reported for fall semester duties has centered around Medor and John Buggs III, two transfer guards who seem to have solidified the entire program after a 10-22 season a year ago. But in the wake of the Schreiner exhibition, the potential for the long-armed trio of Aleu, Sabally and Farmer has sparked some discussion, as well.

Lamin Sabally. UTSA beat Dallas Christian 101-48 on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, in the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Lamin Sabally, a 6-8 sophomore, is bidding to play a bigger role after averaging 12.3 minutes last year. – Photo by Joe Alexander

While the three of them had a limited impact last season, the potential now seems pretty clear. If they can learn to play under control and play without fouling, they could give Henson all sorts of options on personnel groupings moving forward.

Henson and staffers talked to each player individually and to some in groups recently. The discussion centered on roles. With the three fowards, Henson said, “We kind of challenged ‘em collectively. (We asked) what would happen if you three went to the scorer’s table together and walked in, arm and arm, and said, ‘We’re going to make a big impact on this game with our defense and our length.’ ”

Aleu said the players got the message. They’ve been having good practices in that vein for several weeks now, anyway. “We kind of processed it, like, ‘OK, these are three long guys,” he said. “All quick. All can jump. All athletic. Can move. Can play defense. And we just … we get in the game and it’s hard for people to score.

“At practice, looking back on it, every time we’re on the court together, it’s hard for the blue team to get in their offense,’ Aleu added. “We’re blowing everything up. Josh is protecting around the rim. It’s a pretty good lineup, pretty big. With Japhet and Buggs and the three of us, we just shut everything down. We definitely take pride in that.”

For Aleu personally, this is a season in which he’d like to make up for lost time. Last season, he played in only 10 of 32 games, limited by right knee and left quadriceps injuries in the fall and then later, another right knee injury in January that knocked him out for the season.

It was an ordeal that tried his resolve. Aleu acknowledged that it was tough to make it through the days following the injury, which happened in UTSA’s Jan. 15 road game at Charlotte.

“My knee was stuck,” he said. “It was stuck for about three or four days. I couldn’t unlock it because the meniscus had flipped over. They couldn’t unlock it until I got into the surgery. Yeah, that was a lot. A lot.”

In explaining his situation, Aleu said it was a “bucket handle” meniscus injury to his right knee. He said it was his understanding that if the meniscus had been removed, he might have faced a knee replacement in two or three years.

“So the best thing to do is repair it, and just stitch it back together,” he said. “That’s what kept me out for so long. You got to let it heal. It took me about seven months to rehab. We went into the summer and Ji (trainer Jiana Hook) told me we’d just take our time with it.”

Aleu acknowledged that it was difficult to make it through the days following the injury, which happened in UTSA’s Jan. 15 road game at Charlotte. It was also painful to sit and watch the team implode at the end of the season.

“It felt bad just to sit there and watch my teammates go through what we went through,” he said. “So, I’m just happy to be back and (I hope) to do whatever I can to help the team, and not repeat what happened last year.”

Aleu’s return to full speed progressed gradually. He was limmited in late August and September. By the start of official preseason drills, the native of Kenya, who played in high school in Austin and in junior college at Temple, had ramped up to full-speed work.

A few weeks ago, Aleu raised eyebrows when he caught a pass on the fast break and tried to tomahawk dunk over freshman Massal Diouf. The ball didn’t go down, as Diouf hustled back to get a piece of it. But UTSA teammates took notice.

“Aleu, he just got to stay healthy,” guard Isaiah Addo-Ankrah said. “Aleu always could hoop. I call him my African Splash Brother. He just got to stay healthy and keep getting confident. Today, he went up and tried to dunk on somebody. I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s the Louie I know.’ ”

Henson said he was impressed with how hard Aleu practiced last month after being out for so long in rehabilitation.

“Then he had a stretch where he was shooting the ball so well,” the coach said. “(If) he mixes those two things and carries the shooting over to the games, he could have a huge impact for us. Because, he can play a couple of positions. He can guard multiple positions. Can pass it. Attack. Block a few shots. Rebound it. Defend.

“So, transitioning it from practice to the games, is kind of the key there.”

Aleu said he’s encouraged by the team’s play in general.

“Our confidence is pretty high,” he said. “I think that goes back to the guys around you. Everybody’s pretty supportive of each other. We encourage everybody to play their game and be themselves. That makes everyone feel confident. We’re past last year. But it’s, like, in the rear-view mirror. We also still think about it sometimes. It fuels us to keep getting better.”

If the Roadrunners win this year, it won’t be a surprise to them.

“For sure,” Aleu said. “We know what we can do. We’re ready to surprise the outside world, for sure. I think it’ll be a good season, and we won’t be surprised at all. We all know the work that we put in. We all know the sacrifices we’ve made.”

SFA Ladyjacks to test Aston’s Roadrunners at ‘The Sawmill’

Coach Karen Aston at UTSA women's basketball practice at the Convocation Center on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Karen Aston has added some talented new players to the roster for her second season at UTSA . – Photo by Joe Alexander

The second season in Karen Aston’s tenure at UTSA opens in one of the most iconic locales in the state for women’s basketball.

Aston’s Roadrunners are set to play today in East Texas at Nacogdoches. They’ll tip off at 5:30 p.m. at Johnson Coliseum, affectionately known as “The Sawmill,” the home of Stephen F. Austin Ladyjacks.

Leading a team with a revamped roster, including eight newcomers and five freshmen, Aston will face a daunting challenge. The Ladyjacks have won 100 games over the past four seasons. They’ve won back-to-back regular-season championships.

The first of the two titles came in the program’s last year in the Southland Conference, in 2020-21, followed by another championship last season in the Western Athletic Conference. After both seasons, the Ladyjacks reached the NCAA tournament.

Last year, SFA finished 28-5. In an interview last week, Aston suggested that it wasn’t ideal for her team, with so many freshman, to play against such an established program in the opener.

“I mean, for this particular team, would it have been better to have a home opener and settle in a little bit, since we didn’t have an exhibition game,” she said. “Yeah, I definitely think that. We had an exhibition scheduled and then it got canceled.

“I think it would have been good for this team to play under the lights (at home). But, you know, it didn’t work like that, and we’ll do our best to be as competitive as we can be.”

Last year, as the former coach of the Texas Longhorns laid the groundwork for her program in San Antonio, it was a struggle for much of the season. Aston’s Roadrunners lost by 27 points at home to SFA in the opener. They went on to finish 7-23.

This season, the Roadrunners have upgraded the talent level, adding transfers Jordyn Jenkins and Kyra White from Southern Cal. Freshman Sidney Love, the player of the year in San Antonio at Steele last season, is also expected to play a significant role.

Elyssa Coleman and Queen Ulabo lead the returning players.

“Well I think the players are ready to play, regardless of what goes good or bad,” Aston said. “Really, at this point, you just need to play. The monotony of practice and what you’re doing every day in practice is sort of at an all-time high until you play a game and get in front of a crowd and see if the things you’ve been working on are, you know, (whether) you can be successful with those things.

“Do you need to make changes? I mean, none of those assessments can be made until you get in there and play a real game.”

Kevin McCullar Jr. set to play for the defending NCAA champion Kansas Jayhawks

A summer of transition has long since passed for Kevin McCullar, Jr.

After testing his value in the NBA market, he elected to return to college basketball. In making that move, he transferred from one Big 12 power program to another. McCullar decided to move on from the Texas Tech Red Raiders to join the Kansas Jayhawks.

McCullar, a former San Antonio-area standout from Wagner High School, played three seasons in Lubbock for the Red Raiders. The 6-foot-6 guard is now ready to suit up for the defending national champions, with Kansas scheduled to open the season at home on Monday night against Omaha (Neb.)

Editor’s note

On the eve of Monday night’s season openers around the nation, here is a list of athletes from the San Antonio area on Division I men’s rosters. I’ve done my best to make this as comprehensive as possible, but, it’s likley that I’ve missed a few names. I’ll update accordingly when new information comes to light. Thanks, Jerry.

OK, here’s the list:

Adam Benhayoune, LSU, a 6-5 sophomore guard from O’Connor HS

Trey Blackmore, Cal State-Fullerton, a 6-2 freshman guard from Cole HS

Marques Gates, Houston Christian, a 6-0 redshirt freshman guard from Clemens HS

x-Vincent Iwuchukwu, Southern Cal, a 7-foot freshman center, formerly of Cole HS, La Lumiere, Ind., Montverde Academy, Fla.

Jalen Jackson, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, a 5-11 senior guard from Wagner HS

Ja’Sean Jackson, Abilene Christian, a 6-0 sophomore guard from Wagner HS

Ellis Jefferson, Lamar, a 6-0 senior guard from Brandeis HS

Gerald Liddell, Alabama State, a 6-8 senior forward from Steele HS; transfer from Texas

Carlton Linguard Jr., UTSA, a 7-foot junior center from Stevens HS, transfer from Temple JC and Kansas State

Silas Livingston, University of the Incarnate Word, a 5-9 freshman guard from Cole

Langston Love, Baylor, a 6-5 redshirt freshman guard, formerly of Steele HS, Montverde Academy, Fla.

Jayden Martinez, North Texas, a 6-7 senior forward from Steele; transfer from New Hampshire

Jordan Mason, Texas State, a 6-2 freshman guard from Clark

Kevin McCullar, Jr., Kansas, a 6-6 senior guard, formerly of Wagner High School, a transfer from Texas Tech.

Austin Nunez, Arizona State, a 6-2 freshman guard from Wagner HS

Ze’Rik Onyema, UTEP, a 6-8 sophomore forward from Jay HS

Dre Ray, Incarnate Word, a 5-9 freshman guard from Cole HS

Brendan Wenzel, Wyoming, a 6-7 guard from O’Connor HS; a transfer from Utah

Dalen Whitlock, Texas State, a 6-4 sophomore guard from Clark HS

Players with San Antonio roots who attended high school out of the area

Zach Clemence, Kansas, a 6-10 forward from Findlay Prep (Nev.) and Sunrise Christian Academy (Kan.)

Micah Peavy, TCU, a 6-7 junior forward from Duncanville, transfer from Texas Tech

Notable

x-Seven-foot center Vincent Iwuchukwu isn’t practicing and hasn’t been medically cleared to play at Southern Cal following a reported cardiac arrest during a workout in July.

“This past summer I had a sudden cardiac arrest during a workout,” Iwuchukwu told Matt Norlander of CBS sports in a story published on Sept. 29. “Since the event, I have received optimal care from the university, and my personal expert medical team. Currently, I am adhering to the standard protocol designed to ensure my health and safety. I’m feeling great and my recovery and rehabilitation remain positive.”

In both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, Iwuchukwu led the Noe Cantu-coached Cole Cougars to consecutive UIL state tournament appearances.

Defensive stand early in the first half turns tide as UTSA routs Schreiner, 93-60

Japhet Medor. UTSA beat Schreiner 93-60 in a men's basketball exhibition game on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

High-flying point guard Japhet Medor passed for 10 assists and made four steals for the Roadrunners in an exhibition against the Schreiner University Mountaineers. – Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
For The JB Replay

In the wake of an opening burst of energy from the Schreiner University Mountaineers Wednesday night, fans of the Kerrville-based Division III men’s basketball program took full advantage of the opportunity.

They cheered with gusto when Schreiner’s Jackson Reid hit a three for the first points of the game.

Josh Farmer. UTSA beat Schreiner 93-60 in a men's basketball exhibition game on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Josh Farmer came off the bench for 10 points and four rebounds and sparked a Roadrunners rally early in the first half. – Photo by Joe Alexander

They applauded again when Reid, from New Braunfels High School, assisted on another trey by Darian Gibson that staked the Mountaineers to a one-point lead nearly four minutes into the exhibition against the Division I UTSA Roadrunners.

The dysfunctional start for UTSA didn’t last long. The Roadrunners made some substitutions, cranked up their defense and outscored the Mountaineers by 28 points in the last 16 minutes of the half en route to an easy 93-60 victory.

Afterward, UTSA coach Steve Henson applauded the ball movement and the offensive flow but lamented some defensive breakdowns.

“We gave up some strong-side, drive-kick threes,” he said. “We can’t give up those corner threes. The ones where they beat us to the outside and they helped across, that’s a little different. We got to get our rotation a little sharper on that.”

Jacob Germany. UTSA beat Schreiner 93-60 in a men's basketball exhibition game on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Roadrunners center Jacob Germany contributed 15 points and nine rebounds. The Mountaineers had no answer for his length at 6-feet-11. – photo by Joe Alexander

Part of the problem early stemmed from Schreiner running motion offense that the Roadrunners hadn’t seen during preseason camp.

“They ran some good motion … and they had us on our heels a little bit,” the coach said. “Had a little too much dribble penetration. We had certain lineups that did a terrific job. We subbed those three big long guys in the game early and right away we got three consecutive stops.”

The three bigs included Josh Farmer, Aleu Aleu and Lamin Sabally.

“That was an exciting lineup for us,” Henson said. “Just got to take some more steps defensively.”

Offensively, the Roadrunners showed some positive signs, and it was a good thing to see for home-crowd fans who grew weary last year of watching a clunky offense that averaged only 67 points a game.

Against Schreiner, the Roadrunners’ unveiled a maestro at point guard in Japhet Medor, who made beautiful music most of the night against the outmanned Mountaineers.

Medor, in his first game at UTSA, passed for 10 assists against only one turnover. He also came up with four steals, all in only 20 minutes.

Altogether, the Roadrunners passed for 18 assists on 34 field goals and shot a good percentage from the field (51.5 percent) and from three (42.9).

“Oh, man, just to see a different opponent was everything that we’ve been waiting for,” guard John Buggs III said. “It was a great feeling. Long time coming for all of us.”

Also making his UTSA debut, Buggs scored 17 points, including 11 in the second half, and led five players in double figures.

Even though Schreiner was no match for the home team athletically, UTSA felt good about a night when the team hit 12 of 28 from beyond the arc.

Buggs made five of them, while Isaiah Addo-Ankrah hit four and freshman D.J. Richards knocked down three.

The UTSA Roadrunners were decidedly out-of-sync early Wednesday night in their first showing of the season in front of the home fans. In an exhibition against the Division III Schreiner University Mountaineers, they scuffled a bit and fell behind by a few points. But after that, they stoked their competitive fire and rolled to a 56-29 lead at intermission. UTSA’s starting five included Jacob Germany at center, and he was flanked by Addo-Ankrah, Erik Czumbel, Buggs and Medor. It’s a small lineup, indeed, as the five stand 6-feet-11, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2 and 6 feet, respectively.

First-half highlights

Germany and Addo-Ankrah led the Roadrunners offensively in the first half. While Germany was scoring 15 points on the inside, Addo-Ankrah made all four of his shot attempts — all of them 3-pointers — to finish with 12. Medor, in his first game in front of the home fans, pressed the attack and dished out seven assists. Medor also had two steals.

Coming up

The Roadrunners will play their season opener on Monday night, hosting the San Antonio-based Trinity Tigers.

John Buggs III. UTSA beat Schreiner 93-60 in a men's basketball exhibition game on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

John Buggs III made his UTSA debut and led the Roadrunners with 17 points. He hit five 3-pointers. . – Photo by Joe Alexander

An ‘old head’ and his new backcourt mate are set to lead the UTSA Roadrunners

UTSA's John Buggs III, a sophomore guard from Homer, Louisiana, at men's basketball practice at the Convocation Center on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA’s John Buggs III, a redshirt sophomore from Homer, La., is expected to start at shooting guard Wednesday night in an exhibition game against the Schreiner Mountaineers. – Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA guard John Buggs III would like to say that he brings the same athleticism and burst to the basketball court that he did when he was a high school senior in Homer, La. But that would not actually be the case.

After five surgeries, including major reconstructions on each knee, Buggs relies more on guile and finesse than all-out assaults on the rim.

“The high school me, you’d see me dunking on people, that kind of stuff,” he said. “I kind of became an old head (since then). A lot of jump shots (now). A lot of floaters. Not trying to get to the rim. Using a lot of pace. Not trying to blow by people. Kind of more of a mind game now.”

Whatever the case, the “old head,” now listed as a UTSA redshirt sophomore, has proven himself as more than capable of playing for the Roadrunners.

From the start of the summer, through the early fall semester workouts and into the grind of more intense preseason practices, Buggs and backcourt mate Japhet Medor have supplied a steadying presence to a program looking to bounce back from a tough year.

Accordingly, both are expected to start Wednesday night in an exhibition home game against the Schreiner University Mountaineers.

Counting a closed scrimmage in Belton against UT Arlington a few weeks ago, it is UTSA’s second contest of the preseason against another team and its first in front of the fans. The Roadrunners will host Trinity University in the season opener on Monday night.

Medor, a senior, will play the point against Schreiner. The 6-foot-2 Buggs will be stationed at the two guard, with Erik Czumbel, on the wing, at the three. Isaiah Addo-Ankrah will open at the four, while Germany patrols the paint at center.

Earlier this week, the Roadrunners gathered to meet, to discuss individual roles and various topics. Head Coach Steve Henson made one observation that stuck with Germany, the team’s leading scorer from a year ago.

Henson told the players that the newcomers “really helped the (returning players) mature, if that makes sense,” said Germany, who added that he agrees with the sentiment.

“You look at Buggs and Japhet and the way they approach the game, and even Isaiah, they helped Lamin (Sabally) and Josh (Farmer) — even me — mature to the point where we’re just locked in. All in. Completely bought in to this team,” the 6-foot-11 Oklahoman said.

After experiencing the negative vibes of last year’s 10-22 disappointment, Germany said Buggs and Medor brought in an intangible — a positive spirit. He said the feeling spread to the rest of the players on the roster, and even to the coaching staff. “It just clicked really well,” he said.

“Their attitude and personality just made things so much better,” Germany said. “You look forward to seeing them every day.”

Henson said he agrees that the two guards, both of them four years removed from high school, have made a difference in the team’s preparation.

“I don’t think there’s any question,” the coach said. “Just two terrific teammates. Just their nature. I don’t think they did anything consciously to make that happen. It’s just who they are. Both of them are a little older. They’ve been around awhile.”

Medor, who grew up in South Florida, attended prep school for a year and then spent three seasons at the junior college level.

He’s a point guard with speed who loves to distribute. Medor, at 6 feet, can spot up and shoot from the outside, and he does dunk with surprising authority. But his primary function in Henson’s system will be to create for others.

Buggs, from Homer, in northwest Louisiana, also experienced a year of prep school. He then spent one season at the University of Massachusetts in 2019-20, followed by two more at Hill College in central Texas, about 35 miles north of Waco.

At UMass, Buggs played in four games before he blew out his right knee. He never played again for the NCAA Division I Minutemen. One year later, at Hill, in Hillsboro, Buggs injured his left knee in the season opener.

It cost him all of the 2020-21 season.

Once a dynamic 6-foot-2 guard who could electrify with his athleticism, he was relegated to another year of rehabilitation. Last season, Buggs bounced back by averaging 15.2 points per game. Notably, he hit 89 of 188 from 3-point range, good for 47.3 percent.

Buggs said Tuesday afternoon that it feels good to be back in Division I.

“It’s really just a long time coming,” he said. “I mean, it’s all the same. I feel like I been doing the same thing since before Division I. When I was in prep school (in Connecticut, in 2018-19), I pretty much played along with a Division I team. So it’s pretty much the same thing. It all translates.

“I’m just excited to be back on this level. It’s more about proving to myself that I could do it. I feel like I was (written) off with the back-to-back injuries. (With) Covid. All of that. So, it’s just kind of surreal. It’s a moment I’ve been waiting for, for a very long time.

“I won’t waste the opportunity. I appreciate it so much. Because, I know a million people would gladly be in my shoes.”

From another angle, this preseason marks the first in years for Buggs in which he feels as if he has been healthy enough to prepare himself properly.

“I had five surgeries in all, on my knees,” he said. “I had one before my first major one. Then after that I just had a lot of them, back-to-back. So it was kind of like two years of straight rehabbing. Watching basketball. Not being able to be on the court.

“So I’m really excited because, this year was like my first offseason to actually train and get up shots and put in work. Because the last two summers, going into the season, like at Hill, I got cleared in October. And the season started in November.

“I really didn’t have (any) summers to get any workouts in. So I’m really excited to see how far I’ve come along.”

Buggs has enjoyed some good moments in the last 30-something days of practices. When he finds a rhythm, his teammates sense that everything he shoots is going to find the bottom of the net. For instance, as Buggs unleashes a jumper from long distance, players often call it good as the ball leaves his hand.

In many instances, they have been correct.

Also, the chemistry between Buggs and Medor has been noticeable. Medor is perhaps the first pass-first point guard that UTSA has had since Giovanni De Nicolao. With his quickness, he can get into the paint, and with his awareness, he can get the ball to shooters — with touch.

Opposing teams will need to pay attention first to Medor, to stop his penetration, but also to Buggs, who apparently has been given something akin to a green light. Likely, he and Addo-Ankrah are the most dangerous three-point threats on the team.

Buggs said it’s been an easy transition for him to make, coming in from his two years at Hillsboro.

“Maybe my (UTSA) coaches want me to shoot a little more,” he said. “But, it’s been easy because the team, they’re all on board with what the coaches are saying. If the coaches say, ‘Buggs, you should have shot that shot,’ then, you have 9 or 10 guys saying, ‘Shoot the ball.’

“There’s no second-guessing. There’s no questioning, so I really appreciate my teammates for that. Especially playing with Japhet Medor. He makes it so easy. You get so many easy shots. It’s been really easy. Really simple.”

Tonight’s exhibition

NCAA Division III Schreiner College at Division I UTSA, 7 p.m. The outcome doesn’t count on either team’s record.

Season opener

UTSA hosts Division III Trinity University on Monday at 7 p.m. The Roadrunners will play next on Nov. 11 at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The postseason for the Islanders last year included a Southland Conference title and a trip to the NCAA tournament.