By Jerry Briggs
Special to The JB Replay
The UTSA Roadrunners blew out a couple of non-scholarship opponents recently, scoring 225 points combined in two lopsided exhibition victories. Now the regular season looms. UTSA will kick off its 43rd campaign in NCAA Division I men’s basketball when it hosts the Western Illinois Leathernecks Monday night at the Convocation Center.
“We’re trying to get that first real one,” sophomore guard Adante’ Holiman said. “Trying to get that first real one out the way. Everybody’s excited to get that jersey on, like everybody else. You know, we’ve seen the same bodies (in practice) for a while. The exhibitions (against Trinity and McMurry) helped us out a little bit. But now, getting to see a different opponent, a Division I opponent, everyone’s excited to see that.”
Holiman said he wants the fans, particularly the students, to turn out in force so that they can make a push for a winning season.
“We’re trying to get that (fan support) going a little early,” Holiman said. “(We want to) get some dubs, get some people in here. Hey man, I can’t wait. Just the feeling of it, the adrenaline at game time obviously is going to be crazy. We’ve been waiting for this for a while. Some of us have been here since May, waiting for this day. It came quick.”
After a second straight season of 22 losses concluded last March, UTSA lit up the transfer portal with 10 players electing to leave in search of better opportunities. Roadrunners coaches responded with a massive effort to re-tool the roster, signing 10 newcomers.
Based on the early returns, UTSA fared well in the remake. Several first-year players in the program have raised eyebrows with their talents, including Holiman, Dre Fuller Jr., Chandler Cuthrell — all transfers — and freshman Nazar Mahmoud.
Against Trinity, one player who was in the program last season but did not play stepped up to show in the first exhibition that he wants to make an impact. Seven-foot Carlton Linguard Jr. led eight players in double figures with 20 points and nine rebounds against Trinity.
In addition, the Roadrunners took liberties driving into the paint and kicking out to the perimeter, where they made 15 three-point baskets.
McMurry, meanwhile, more or less stayed home to defend perimeter shooters, but UTSA’s offense adjusted by driving it inside for easy baskets at the rim and scoring in transition (with 29 fast-break points). As a result, the Roadrunners shot 65 percent from the field in the first half and 55 percent for the game.
“We like our versatility,” Henson said recently. “We’re an older group. We’re not alone in saying that, in this day and age. There’s a lot of older teams right now. But we think this group’s got a chance with our versatility and hunger and desire to do something special.”
Monday — Western Illinois at UTSA, 7 p.m.
Friday — UTSA at Minnesota, 6:30 p.m.
UTSA players to watch
Carlton Linguard, Jr. — Seven-foot center from Stevens HS, a transfer from Kansas State, is set to play a regular-season game for the first time since the spring of 2022 after sitting out last season at UTSA. Linguard had 29 points and 21 rebounds in two exhibitions.
Trey Edmonds — Power forward with a 6-10, 255-pound frame played the last two seasons at Utah Tech. He’ll be asked to supply rebounding, defense and a physical presence.
Dre Fuller Jr. — A small forward at 6-6 and 220 pounds will play for the first time since 2022 when he attended Central Florida. Fuller is adept at driving into the paint and either finding shooters on the perimeter or finishing at the rim.
Christian Tucker — The 6-foot-3 guard, in his third season at UTSA, will take on his biggest role since he’s been a Roadrunner. He’ll be tasked with pushing the pace and finding gaps to drive it inside.
Adante’ Holiman — A UTSA newcomer, at 6 feet, has shown ability to hit shots from the perimeter and score at the rim. The sophomore from Oklahoma shot 43 percent from three, including 50 percent in conference play, last year at UT Rio Grande Valley.
Chandler Cuthrell — Another newcomer who is expected to play a major role this season. The 6-8 forward, from Baltimore via Odessa College, can spring off the floor for rebounds — he had five off the offensive glass in each of the team’s two exhibition games — and can ignite emotions with his dunking ability.
PJ Carter — A lithe, 6-foot-5 guard who averaged 16.3 ppg last year at Georgia Highlands. He hit four 3-point shots combined in two exhibitions.
Nazar Mahmoud — The freshman from Leander, who played in prep school last year in Plano, has come on strong in two exhibitions with 26 points combined in two games. Mahmoud looks extremely comfortable launching shots from the three-point line.
Isaiah Wyatt — Native Ohioan played last year at Division II Chadron State. A 6-4 guard, he played a little tight in the exhibition against Trinity but calmed down and enjoyed a solid outing against McMurry.
Massal Diouf — Returning starter from last year likely will be utilized off the bench. The 6-9, 240-pounder is rounding into form after battling through knee rehabilitation this summer. If he can play with aggression and not foul, he’ll see consistent playing time.
Eye on opening night
Western Illinois is coming off a 16-14 season, the program’s first winning record since 2012-13. Returning starters are Jesiah West and Quinlan Bennett. Sixth man KJ Lee and reserve JJ Kalakon also return. James Dent Jr., Drew Cisse, Joe Petrakis and Ryan Myers highlight the newcomers. WIU reloaded the roster with eight transfers. Chad Boudreau takes over as Leatherneck head coach, being promoted from associate head coach last spring. Boudreau was the lead WIU assistant the past three seasons.