UTSA guard Jhivvan Jackson hits a wild shot for the game winner Saturday afternoon against North Texas as the Roadrunners take over first place in Conference USA.
As UTSA basketball coach Steve Henson concluded his post-game interview Saturday afternoon, someone told him that the Kansas City Chiefs were winning in their NFL playoff game against Indianapolis.
“Wow,” the Kansas native said, smiling as he stepped away from a gaggle or reporters. “The day just keeps getting better.”
As Henson kept walking, he kept talking.
“I got a Whataburger ticket in my pocket,” he added, still smiling.
And then he continued on, with his voice trailing off, trying to take in the feeling of being the coach of the first-place team in Conference USA.
UTSA took over the top spot in dramatic style, as guard Jhivvan Jackson sank a spinning, off-balance shot from 17 feet with 1.6 seconds left.
On the last play, North Texas executed a three-quarter, length-of-the-court pass to 6-10 center Zachary Simmons, who spun and hoisted a 16 footer that was off the mark as time expired.
After the miss, UTSA players charged off the bench to celebrate their seventh straight victory in front of an announced crowd of 1,192.
The win was sweet on a number of levels, but, most importantly, it lifted the Roadrunners into the top spot in the Conference USA standings.
So, how does it feel to be in first, coach?
“Got a nice ring to it,” Henson said. “Our guys are pretty excited. But we know we haven’t done enough yet. Really, we’re 4-0. We’ve played three home games. We’ve gone on the road and won once.
“If we’re going to do something special, we really have just gotten started.”
On the last offensive possession, the Roadrunners pitched the ball around a few times and then got it to Jackson in isolation against Jorden Duffy on the right side.
Jackson, one of the most electric offensive players in the conference, slipped when he first tried to make a move, and then he bobbled the ball.
Grabbing it out of the air, the sophomore executed a spin move toward the baseline and then calmly sank a one-hander from about 17 feet.
Replays showed Jackson’s teammate, Byron Frohnen, with a look of disbelief under the basket as the ball hit the bottom of the net.
“We just wanted to get him the ball,” Henson said. “He didn’t have a very good first half. He got a little frustrated. (He) thought he was getting fouled and didn’t deal with it very well.
“But (he’s) a competitive guy. We knew we wanted to get him the ball … with a chance to win it or go to overtime.
“(We) thought he might draw a foul. He didn’t. He almost lost his balance. Got it back, and did what great players do.”
North Texas 16-2, 4-1
UTSA 10-7, 4-0
North Texas’ Jorden Duffy misses out of the corner. Zachary Simmons rebounds, and then Roosevelt Smart hits a three to tie with 50 seconds left. In the end, UTSA held on to snap the Mean Green’s eight-game winning streak.
Jackson: ‘I had to improvise’
When Jhivvan Jackson arrived at UTSA a few years ago, at least one pundit on social media compared him to former NBA star Allen Iverson.
Even though it’s hard to live up to that hype, Jackson can at least lay claim to one of the most remarkable clutch shots in recent school history.
“I tried to shoot a jab (step), but I slipped and had to improvise a little,” Jackson said. “It just went in. I think it was payback for that play I missed right before that.”
With the game tied 74-74, Jackson missed a jumper that was rebounded by Frohnen. UTSA promptly called time out with 13 seconds left to set up the last possession.
Jackson hit the shot, ending North Texas’ eight-game winning streak.
“Great game,” he said. “Practices have been helping us a lot. We’ve been really taking practice serious, and it’s been translating to the game.
“We played great defense on their point guard, (Ryan) Woolridge. Defensively, it was a great game. That’s what got us the win.”
North Texas — Roosevelt Smart, 18 points, five three-pointers. Ryan Woolridge, 17 points, 9 rebounds. Jorden Duffy, 15 points. Zachary Simmoons, 12 points, 8 rebounds.
UTSA — Jhivvan Jackson, 17 points, 6 of 18 shooting. Nick Allen, 16 points, 7 rebounds. Keaton Wallace, 11 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals. Giovanni De Nicolao, 10 points, 5 rebounds.
Just as the Mean Green pulled to within three with 11:51 remaining on a driving layup by Smart, the Roadrunners answered with one of their best stretches of play this season, outscoring the visitors 20-13 over the next six minutes.
The Roadrunners started to attack the basket, play after play, either getting layups or free throws. UTSA hit four straight layups at one juncture and then De Nicolao buried a three from the corner. When Jackson hit a free throw with 5:29 to play, UTSA had hiked the lead to 67-57.
Mounting a comeback
Not to be outdone, North Texas constructed a 14-4 run that tied the game, 71-71, with 2:40 remaining. Smart capped the streak by nailing a three from the top of the circle.
UTSA guard Keaton Wallace buries a three-pointer out of the corner in the first half Saturday against North Texas.
Freshman Adokiye Iyaye energized fans with a three-pointer on the last play of the first half, lifting the Roadrunners to a 33-27 lead.
At intermission, Allen led UTSA in scoring with 9 points, and Keaton Wallace and Iyaye had 7. Woolridge had 8 and Duffy 7 for North Texas.
UTSA freshman Adokiye Iyaye scores a layup on a back cut in the first half against the North Texas Mean Green.
UTSA broke a four-game losing streak to North Texas in the series, which stretched back over the past three seasons. Meaning, it was the first win over the in-state rivals for the current coaching staff and its core of veteran players. The Roadrunners’ last win against the Mean Green came on March 7, 2015, in a 69-68 victory at UTSA.