The UTSA Roadrunners celebrated in the locker room Wednesday night after opening the Conference USA championships with a 72-62 victory over the Charlotte 49ers.
At the same time, the good vibes were mixed with a sense of urgency on what comes next.
“We were excited that we were going to enjoy it for the next 20 or 30 minutes or so,” UTSA center Jacob Germany said. “But, we came here to win more than one game. So, we’re all feeling good, confident. But we’re locked into the next one, too.”
The Roadrunners advanced in the bracket into a quarterfinal matchup Thursday against the powerful Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. The tournament is being held at The Star in Frisco.
In running up a 41-26 lead at halftime, the Roadrunners held the 49ers to 28 percent shooting, and senior guard Jhivvan Jackson exploded for 18 points.
UTSA’s defense played well at the outset, as well. Players really clamped down in the closing minutes of the half, limiting the 49ers to 1 of 8 shooting from the floor.
In the half, the 49ers hit only 7 of 25 shots.
Jackson was as good as ever in the early going. He hit two threes and scored 10 in the first eight minutes. For the half, he was 7 of 13 from the field.
UTSA experienced a scare with its leading scorer with about four minutes left before intermission, as he came out of the game holding his left shoulder. Jackson, who had suffered what Coach Steve Henson described as ‘like a stinger,’ returned with 3:49 remaining and played the rest of the way.
In the second half, Jackson wasn’t the same offensively as he went scoreless on 0 for 6 shooting. But as the 49ers rallied to get back into it, Keaton Wallace and Germany stepped in to stop the charge.
Wallace poured in 11 of his team-high 20 points and Germany scored 10 of his 16 after intermission. Germany also finished with 10 rebounds for his first postseason double-double.
Asked if he was worried when the 49ers started to make a run, Germany said, “Mmm, kind of.”
“Coach told us they were going to get into their little groove offensively and try to slow the game down,” he said. “We always knew they would eventually get going. But I think we did a good job in responding and controlling the game.”
For the streaking Roadrunners, it was their 10th win in their last 12 games. It was also their first win at the C-USA tournament since 2018 when they beat UTEP in the opening round before bowing out with a loss to Middle Tennessee in the quarterfinals.
In 2019, the Roadrunners had a first-round bye into the quarterfinals but stumbled in a loss to the UAB Blazers.
Last season, UTSA lost in the opening round, falling to UAB for the second straight year on March 11, the day before the tournament was scrapped because of the pandemic.
Charlotte’s season ended on a nine-game losing streak. The 49ers were led by guards Jordan Shepherd with 20 points and Jahmir Young with 19.
Conference USA quarterfinals
Thursday, at The Star, in Frisco
UTSA vs. Western Kentucky, 5:30 p.m.
Rice vs. UAB, 6 p.m.
Western Kentucky (18-6) is the No. 1 seed out of the C-USA East Division. The Hilltoppers boast the Player of the Year, center Charles Bassey. Bassey, a 6-11 center, averages 17.6 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.1 blocks.
Guard Taveion Hollingsworth (14.3 points and 2.3 assists) is also a threat. The Hilltoppers won in non- conference play against Memphis, Rhode Island and on the road at Alabama. They topped the C-USA East standings at 11-3. It’s the first game of the tournament for WKU, which earned a first-round bye. Because of the unbalanced schedule this year, the Roadrunners did not play them.
“They had a terrific year,” Henson said. “We didn’t get to play all the teams in the East this year. But we’re excited. We’ve got great respect for them. They’re clearly one of the best teams in the East and the No. 1 seed. We know what Bassey will do, and it’s not a one-man show. You know, and they’ve got some other really, really good players. It’ll take a great effort. But, shoot our guys are fired up. They’re excited.”