By Jerry Briggs
Special to The JB Replay
The Jacksonville State University Gamecocks hit the boards for nine offensive rebounds and scored 13 second-chance points after intermission Friday, pulling away to record a 77-62 victory over the UTSA Roadrunners.
Playing on UTSA’s home court at the Convocation Center, the Gamecocks held the Roadrunners to 36 percent shooting and forced eight turnovers in the first half to build a 31-26 lead.
The game seemed to be one that UTSA could win at that point despite the poor offense. But that is when Jax State turned up the intensity, hit the boards hard and started turning several possessions into second-chance opportunities.
Gamecocks guard KyKy Tandy emerged as one player who took advantage, scoring all of his 16 points in the second half.
The Roadrunners were also pretty good in the second half offensively, shooting 50 percent from the field as a team. But they couldn’t keep the Gamecocks off the glass, and that was the ball game.
Addressing the media in the post-game, eighth-year UTSA coach Steve Henson was clearly upset with his team’s performance.
“Pretty frustrating,” Henson said. “Didn’t get off to a very good start. They just went right to the box and scored in the paint over and over and over. I think, something like 16 of the first 18 were paint points. Just kind of dominated down there in the low post. Got to be tougher than that.”
UTSA (2-4) will have an opportunity to make amends Saturday when it hosts the University of the Incarnate Word Cardinals (3-2) at 3 p.m. Under first-year coach Shane Heirman, UIW is on a three-game winning streak, including a 67-66 home victory over Jacksonville State earlier this week.
The Cardinals will play the Gamecocks in the Convocation Center at 3 p.m. Sunday to complete the Roadrunners/Cardinals Classic.
The first game played in the multi-team event was hardly classic, if you happened to be a fan of the Roadrunners. Coming off an 89-87 road victory at Houston Christian on Monday night, UTSA had a chance to win its second straight and failed to beat a team that came into the arena with four losses in its first five games.
“Offensively, we couldn’t get any rhythm,” Henson said. “Couldn’t get drive-kicks. Had some opportunities to finish and didn’t get the finishes. (We had) eight turnovers in the first half and just couldn’t get any pace. Once they had control of the game, they were certainly more deliberate.”
Jax State sensed a chance to steal a victory and seized it. It seemed like each time UTSA made a push in the second half, the visitors had an answer. Henson lamented the lost opportunities to get defensive stops because of a missed opportunity to get a defensive rebound.
“Our defense was getting broken down and weren’t in good position to rebound on some of those,” the coach said. “It all goes together. They’re getting penetrations (off) ball screens. We’re being forced to help off penetration also takes away your rebounding responsibilities. You got to help the helper. That’s not just on the ball. It’s on the rebound.”
Gamecocks guards Tandy and Quincy Clark both hit a couple of threes and scored 16 points apiece. Ivan Reynolds had 13 points and Marcellus Brigham Jr. scored 12. For UTSA, Christian Tucker scored a career-high 19 points. Dre Fuller Jr. had 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Tucker came to UTSA a few years ago as a walk on. He played sporadic minutes the past two seasons. This year, he has been consistently productive and has led the team in minutes played.
“I got to be a lot better,” Tucker said. “Although I scored tonight, it didn’t contribute to us winning the game. I have to figure out other ways I can help my team. Once I figure that out, I’ll be a much better help to my team.”
After beating Western Illinois at home in the opener, UTSA went on the road and lost at Minnesota, Lamar and at Texas State. They shot 49 percent from the field against Houston Christian. Things were looking up, until they hit the floor against Jacksonville State.
“We got to play a lot better,” Tucker said. “We got to fight more. This game was just about effort and we didn’t get enough of that.”
Giving up too many offensive rebounds has been a recurring problem. It nearly cost UTSA against Western Illinois and it also led to an eight-point road loss at Lamar.
“We just have to figure it out,” Tucker said. “It’s all about boxing out. Rebounding isn’t about skill. It’s about effort. If were not getting enough effort, the other team is going to beat us every time.”
Jacksonville State 2-4
Incarnate Word at UTSA, 3 p.m., Saturday
Jacksonville State vs. Incarnate Word, 3 p.m. Sunday (at UTSA)
Jacksonville State coach Ray Harper counts former UTSA assistant and former longtime Judson High School head coach Mike Wacker as a good friend. The two were roommates at the University of Texas in the 1980s.
“He’s coming over (to our practice) tomorrow,” Harper said. “He went to Fort Worth to see his mom for Thanksgiving. He’s going to come over and hang out tomorrow, talk to the team for me, and all that good stuff. I haven’t seen him in, gosh, 20 years.”
Harper was happy to see his players bounce back from a one-point loss at Incarnate Word. In that game, played Wednesday night, UIW led by 18 early in the second half. Jax State rallied and surged into a four-point lead late but then lost it at the end, falling 67-66, on a buzzer beater by Shon Robinson.
“We got a lot of new guys trying to figure things out,” he said. “We’re still trying to figure some things out with different guys. We’ve lost three games — all (on) shots at the buzzer. You know, that tests your character a little bit. And that’s what we talk about. Who are we? How do we respond to that?
“I thought we competed today. I thought we did a good job.”