By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
The East Carolina Pirates showed up at the UTSA Convocation Center Saturday wearing T-shirts in warmups with three letters across the front — GPM. The acronym represented the team’s mantra for a ‘Game Point Mentality.’ In other words, play every play as if it will determine the outcome of the game.
Bringing an aggressive mentality from the start, the Pirates built a 23-point halftime lead and then held off the Roadrunners 84-73 in the American Athletic Conference. Forward Brandon Johnson made seven three-pointers and scored a season high 30 points to lead the third victory for East Carolina (12-12, 5-6) in its last five games.
Sinking deeper into a hole in the AAC standings, UTSA (8-16, 2-9) lost its fourth straight game while dropping to 3-12 in its last 15. The Roadrunners had problems in giving up three pointers (13), offensive rebounds (16) and also in allowing the Pirates to capitalize on mistakes. East Carolina outscored UTSA 18-6 in points off turnovers.
The Roadrunners turned it over only 12 times, but each time, it seemed that the Pirates would capitalize with a breakout or an easy look at the basket.
For second-year East Carolina coach Michael Schwartz, it was not only a big win for his program, but also a homecoming of sorts. Schwartz, who played a bit part as a player in the Texas Longhorns’ 1999 Big 12 regular-season title under Rick Barnes, snagged his first full-time assistant coaching job in 2004 at UTSA under former Roadrunners coach Tim Carter.
He worked one season (2004-05) under Carter with the Roadrunners in the Southland Conference.
“I was a video coordinator at Texas,” he recalled. “I spent two years at Texas and a year at Long Beach State, and then I came back to UT for two years. (Then) coach Carter gave me my first opportunity to be a full-time assistant. So I will always be indebted to him. I love him. I think he’s an incredible human being, husband and father. I learned so much from him.
“I just have great respect for him and I’m very thankful to him.”
It was a surprise for Schwartz when he came out on the floor for tipoff and saw Carter seated at the press table in his headset, preparing to do commentary on the UTSA radio broadcast. “We stay in contact, but I did not realize (he worked the games),” Schwartz said. “I saw him before the game, and I’m looking forward to saying goodbye to him before I leave.”
The other major surprise for Schwartz centered on his team’s three-point shooting. The Pirates made four of their first five shots from the field — all threes. A few were more than a few steps behind the arc. As the shots continued to fall, East Carolina gained confidence. The Pirates finished nine of 19 from behind the arc in the half, as they took a 48-25 lead.
“It means a lot for any team, home or away,” Schwartz said. “But it really meant a lot for us because we had struggled shooting the basketball, particularly the last four games. We won a couple of the games, in rock fights (with) scores in the 50s and the game with Temple, when we got 70, but it was in overtime. But, we had really struggled on offense.”
One other factor might have tilted the game to the Pirates, and that was preparation. East Carolina last played seven days ago at Charlotte. After losing 67-52 last Saturday, the Pirates had a short trip home to Greenville, N.C., and then had all week to work, to rest and to work some more. UTSA, meanwhile, had a long couple of days travel to Kansas where the Roadrunners lost on Wednesday night to Wichita State, 84-64.
After a long trip home and with less than two days to prepare, the Roadrunners just came out flat.
“Just really a disappointing start,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “They came out, I think, and knocked down four straight three pointers on us. Dug ourselves a hole again. (We) withstood that run and then they put another one on us. We just weren’t good enough in the first half, on either end of the floor … Johnson was terrific. (He) made tough threes, (grabbed) offensive rebounds.
“He was fantastic. But there was more to it than that. Their offensive rebounding was huge. They scored in the paint and they made 13 three pointers.”
Jordan Ivy-Curry led the Roadrunners with 14 points, followed by PJ Carter with 12 and Adante’ Holiman with 11. In the first half, the offense was so sporadic, it seemed that the team would go a minute or two without even getting a good look at the basket. Part of that was East Carolina’s defense on Ivy-Curry, UTSA’s best offensive player, who was swarmed each time he touched it.
Ivy-Curry took only three shots in the opening half and made two. He finished the game six of 11 from the field and one of four from three.
Even though the Roadrunners are struggling, they do have seven games left in the regular season, which is ample time to find some chemistry, get hot and prepare for the AAC tournament in Fort Worth. PJ Carter said he and his teammates have a big week coming up with a trip to Charlotte and Temple. They don’t play at home again until Feb. 21 against South Florida.
“We got to just move on to the next opponent, because this is an important stretch for us,” Carter said. “We’re not going to be home for (awhile). As a unit, we have to buy in in practices. Stick close together.”
East Carolina played one of its best halves of the season, shooting 55 percent from the field, in rolling to a 48-25 lead against UTSA.
Forward Brandon Johnson led the charge with 21 points. Johnson made five of the Pirates’ nine three-point baskets. In one stretch, he knocked down three from long distance in three possessions to spark a 15-0 run late in the half.
East Carolina 12-12, 5-6
UTSA 8-16, 2-9
UTSA at Charlotte, Thursday, 6 p.m.
— Lisa Campos (@LisaUTSA) February 10, 2024
It was a special day on Saturday at the Convocation Center. After the State of Texas Senate and House of Representatives issued a resolution proclaiming February 10 as “UTSA 210 Day,” fans gathered in the parking lot for a tailgate. An announced crowd of 1,535 attended an afternoon men’s basketball game.
The day is regarded as a celebration of the strong bond between UTSA athletics and the City of San Antonio.
UTSA Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Lisa Campos presented the resolution at halftime. The resolution was signed by State Sen. José Menéndez (District 26) and State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (District 116).
— East Carolina Men’s Basketball (@ecubasketball) February 10, 2024
East Carolina forward Brandon Johnson gets loose for a breakout and a dunk against UTSA on Saturday afternoon.