Frittering away most of an 18-point halftime lead, the UTSA Roadrunners steadied themselves in the last minute Saturday to turn back the Sam Houston State Bearkats, 78-73, in a neutral-site game at Houston.
“It was a good win for us,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said on the team’s radio broadcast from the Toyota Center, the home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets. “Found a way to get it in the right column.”
UTSA guard Dhieu Deing sank two free throws with 10 seconds left for the final points of the game. With the two clutch freebies, UTSA finished 14 of 14 at the line.
Deing, a junior transfer in his first season with the Roadrunners, scored a team-high 26 points.
For the 6-foot-5 former North Carolina schoolboy, a Louisiana native whose family grew up in Africa, it was his fourth game of 20 or more points in his last six outings.
Deing hit 8 of 18 from the field, 4 of 10 from three and 6 of 6 at the free throw line.
As a team, UTSA shot 47.4 percent from the field, one of its best marks of the season. For the season, the Roadrunners are shooting a sub-par 39.1 percent, but they have improved to a combined 42.4 over the last four games, during which they have forged a 3-1 record.
Late in the first half, the Roadrunners played one of their best stretches of the season, finishing on a 20-4 run to lead 42-24 at intermission.
But in the second half, the Bearkats nearly came all the way back. They surged 14-2, a run capped by Savion Flagg’s three-pointer, to forge a 63-63 tie with 6:35 remaining.
Undeterred, the Roadrunners answered with a decisive 9-0 run of their own, with Cedrick Alley, Jr.’s three starting it. From there, Jordan Ivy-Curry hit a layup and Deing sank a layup and two free throws.
All of a sudden, it was 72-63 with 4:10 remaining.
“Basketball is a game of runs,” Ivy-Curry said. “You got to keep up the intensity. Keep moving forward. Because even though you have slip ups, you know, keep playing.”
With Darius McNeill injured and not playing, Ivy-Curry has taken on added responsibility to play point guard.
Henson said he’s doing a good job with it, for the most part. He’s making progress, the coach said.
“Dhieu, from the start of the season to this point, has probably improved the most,” Henson said. “I thought he might have backed up a little today with his shot selection. We thought we had those out of his system. But he’s made progress as well.”
Sam Houston State 3-6
Dec. 17 — UT Rio Grande Valley at UTSA, 7 p.m.
UTSA — Cedrick Alley Jr. produced 17 points, six rebounds and four steals. Alley, who shot the ball with confidence for the second straight game, hit 7 of 10 from the field.
Playing point guard for the most part, Ivy-Curry had 16 points, four rebounds and three assists. Center Jacob Germany had 14 points and eight rebounds.
Sam Houston — Senior guard Demarkus Lampley scored 23 points, including seven 3-point baskets. Lampley made five threes in the second half. Flagg finished with a double-double, producing 19 points and 13 rebounds.
Playing their best half of the season, the Roadrunners shot 53.6 percent from the field en route to a 42-24 lead at intermission.
The scoring was balanced among starters with Deing notching 12, Cedric Alley Jr. 10, Ivy-Curry 9 and Jacob Germany 8.
Continuing an offensive surge from UTSA’s last game, Alley was 4 for 5 from the field, including 2 of 3 from three.
Also, Alley pulled down five rebounds as UTSA controlled the boards, 24-15, and held Sam Houston State to 27.3 percent.
Sam Houston’s Savion Flagg, a transfer from Texas A&M, had 11 points and five rebounds at the half.
The Bearkats pulled to within two of the Roadrunners when Flagg hit a three mid-way through the half. From there, UTSA put together a 20-4 run.
Sam Houston State and UTSA played each other annually for more than two decades as members of the Southland Conference. UTSA moved out of the Southland and into the Western Athletic Conference in 2012-13. UTSA opened in Conference USA in 2013-14. Sam Houston State is playing this season in its first year as a member of the WAC.
In his fourth game of the season, UTSA newcomer Aleu Aleu played 21 minutes and finished with three points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals.
He hit his first three-pointer of the season with a minute left in the first half.
Aleu, a 6-foot-8 native of Kenya, played in high school in Austin and in junior college at Temple. Nursing a quadriceps injury, he sat out most of the team’s preseason camp in October.
Senior transfer Darius McNeill sat out his third straight game with a foot injury. He hasn’t practiced since he suffered the mishap on Nov. 24 in a home game against Lamar … Guards Erik Czumbel and Christian Tucker played only limited minutes. Czumbel battled through an illness in recent days.