By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
Initially, Talvin Hester wasn’t having all that much fun pacing the sidelines in his first game in San Antonio as a college head coach.
Eventually, however, things turned around for his Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, who shook off a sluggish first half and scored a 66-55 victory over the slumping UTSA Roadrunners.
Led by Isaiah Crawford and Cobe Williams, the Bulldogs shot 59.3 percent after intermission and made just enough stops, allowing them to hold off a late Roadrunners’ push.
“Really excited about this one,” said Hester, a veteran of the profession who has worked in the past as an assistant coach for Danny Kaspar at Texas State, for Kelvin Sampson at Houston and for Mark Adams at Texas Tech.
Last year, Hester helped Adams and the Red Raiders reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament before he left in the offseason to take over at LA Tech for Erik Konkol, now the head coach at Tulsa.
“I thought our guys defended (today),” Hester said. “Our offense wasn’t there all day. We didn’t hit shots we normally hit. We didn’t offensive rebound. You know, we kind of made some mistakes with quick shots. But we really defended tonight. I commend our team.”
Crawford, a 6-foot-6 junior from Fort Worth, scored 19 points and had seven rebounds. Williams added 18 points, six rebounds and five assists. Louisiana Tech (12-10, 5-6) entered the afternoon matinee having lost four of its last five.
UTSA (7-16, 1-11) has lost eight in a row. Isaiah Addo-Ankrah scored 14 points and hit four 3-pointers for the Roadrunners. John Buggs III and Christian Tucker had 13 apiece, while Jacob Germany produced 11 points and seven rebounds.
Roadrunners guard Japhet Medor returned to action after sitting out the last three games with a foot injury, but Medor clearly wasn’t himself, going scoreless in nine minutes. In his last game before the injury, he scored 30 points.
Without Medor at full speed, Tucker played 30 minutes at point guard. To go along with his 13 points, he also had five assists and six rebounds.
Tucker, a walk-on from Phoenix, has emerged as one of the bright spots for the Roadrunners lately. Over the past four games, he’s played major minutes and averaged 9.8 points, 3.5 assists and 3.0 rebounds.
“First off, it’s really sad to see Japhet go out with an injury,” Tucker said. “I never want to see that happen to one of my teammates. I’m just thankful that Coach (Steve) Henson trusts me out there and thankful for an opportunity to go out there and play.”
The Roadrunners finished a forgettable month of January with a 1-8 record. Their last win was Jan. 5, when they won at home, beating Middle Tennessee 75-72 on Buggs’ buzzer-beating, 3-pointer.
Since then, they’ve dropped consecutive contests to Western Kentucky, UTEP, Charlotte, Rice, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, North Texas and now Louisiana Tech.
During the losing streak, the longest for UTSA in Steve Henson’s seven seasons as coach, the team has dropped five straight at home. Five of the eight losses have been by double digits.
“Obviously it’s very frustrating to not get in the win column,” Tucker said. “We all want it so bad. We’re hungry, desperate for a win. Each day we come in, and we want it so bad. You know, eventually, it’s going to happen for us.”
Shaking off travel woes
Both UTSA and Louisiana Tech played road games on Thursday night, with the Roadrunners losing by three points at North Texas and the Bulldogs losing a six-point game in Birmingham, Ala., against UAB.
Even though Louisiana Tech traveled the greater distance to San Antonio, its charter aircraft arrived at 1 a.m. Friday, three hours before the Roadrunners arrived on their charter bus.
“We talked about that a long time ago,” Henson said. “We thought there’d be a case where someone would charter in and beat us home, and that’s exactly what happened. They chartered in Thursday night. We chartered a bus in Thursday night and we got in here to the Convo about 4 o’clock (Friday morning). So our guys were in bed, hopefully, by 4:30.”
Henson said travel has been tough on everyone in the C-USA this season after the loss of three teams to football-driven realignment. As conference membership decreased from 14 to 11 teams, the conference schedule increased from 18 games to 20.
Has the travel been a factor for the Roadrunners? Did it hurt UTSA against Louisiana Tech?
“Oh, I don’t know,” Henson said. “It is what it is. There’s not anything we can do about it. Our guys came in (Friday afternoon), practice was a little bit short. We knew we needed to get warmed up. We knew we needed to do some game-speed shooting and do some things specific for this game … But, yeah, without the travel partners (from last year’s schedule), there’s been some tough travel on the year.
“The UTEP to Charlotte trip (Jan. 11-14) was a tough trip. That stuff wears you down a little bit. I think once the game starts, you’re not thinking about it. But, who knows, both teams looked a little sluggish there early on.”
Louisiana Tech built a 25-18 lead on UTSA at halftime. The Bulldogs held the Roadrunners to 18.2 percent shooting. Some of UTSA’s attempts were clean looks. Nevertheless, the Roadrunners made only 6 of 33 from the field.
Louisiana Tech 12-10, 5-6
UTSA 7-16, 1-11
UTSA at Western Kentucky, Feb. 2
UTSA at Middle Tennessee, Feb. 4