The UTSA Roadrunners will certainly know more about what to expect from forward Bryson Williams and the UTEP Miners Saturday afternoon at the Convocation Center.
But just because they’re more familiar with the Miners’ personnel and game plan, it doesn’t mean that the rematch will be any easier to win than their first meeting of the season.
Behind Williams, UTEP rallied at home on Wednesday night, battling back from a 24-point deficit to knock off UTSA 80-77 in overtime in the first of two Conference USA games this week between the in-state rivals.
The Roadrunners will try to even the score when the teams meet again Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Convocation Center.
“It’s going to be a grind it out game,” UTSA guard Jhivvan Jackson said. “It’s not going to be easy. They’re one of the top defensive teams in the nation. They going to make us work. But we going to make them work, as well.
“We want to make them take hard shots, just like they want us to take hard shots. That’s kind of … the game plan, just come in with a defensive mindset, and have the offense take care of itself.”
Leading 54-30 with 14 minutes remaining Wednesday night, the Roadrunners failed to close out the game.
They were left stunned when the Miners outscored them 38-14 to the regulation buzzer.
Emboldened by the comeback, UTEP took a two-point lead into the final minute of overtime and then forced 3-point misses from Jackson and Keaton Wallace in the final seconds.
Miners guard Daryl Edwards knocked down a free throw with one second remaining for the final margin.
For the Roadrunners, it was the second time in the first three weeks of the C-USA schedule that they have allowed road games to slip through their fingers.
It happened first in Miami two weeks ago when Florida International stole an inbounds pass and hit a buzzer beater to tie the game in regulation, and then stormed to a 90-83 victory in overtime.
It happened again in El Paso when Williams, a 6-foot-8 forward in his first season with the Miners, finished with a season-high 34 points and 10 rebounds.
After scoring a modest 10 points in the first half, the Fresno State transfer started to get hot.
He made several tough shots out of the low post after intermission on the Roadrunners, who lost in spite of solid games from Jackson (29 points, 13 rebounds) and Keaton Wallace (26 points).
Despite the mounting adversity, Jackson said UTSA’s attitude has been good.
“Everybody on this team knows we should have pulled that one out,” Jackson said. “There’s no doubt about that. But, all we can do from that is just learn as a team.
“We got to learn how to close out games. I think that’s been one of our weaknesses just lately.”
UTSA 8-10, 2-3
UTEP 11-7, 2-3
Newcomer Eric Parrish practiced with the Roadrunners in five on five drills Friday afternoon, but it remains uncertain when — or if — he will be allowed to play this season.
Coach Steve Henson said that UTSA communicated with the NCAA on the matter earlier this week. But the coach said he hasn’t heard about any ruling yet.
Parrish is an athletic, 6-foot-6 guard-forward who could give the team an immediate boost.
He has played one season at Akron in NCAA Division I and one in junior college. After that, he spent part of last semester at Division I Nevada.
But because Nevada changed coaches last summer and because Parrish didn’t play in any games for the Wolf Pack this season, UTSA is asking if he can play immediately for the Roadrunners.
Most players transferring from one D-I program to another are required by NCAA rule to sit out a year.