By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
For the last four years, Jacob Germany’s parents from Oklahoma have attended each of their son’s home games at UTSA.
Germany, the Roadrunners’ 6-foot-11 center, has come to expect them at the arena about an hour before tipoff. Crazy enough, it didn’t work out that way for what was likely his last home game.
Because of a flat tire on their vehicle, Justin and Stacy Germany were not in the building at the standard 60-minute mark. Not to worry.
They arrived just in time to participate in a “Senior Night” ceremony honoring their son and his good friend, Erik Czumbel. Later, they were awarded with a bonus when Jacob helped lead the Roadrunners to a 78-73 Conference USA victory over the Charlotte 49ers.
With the performance, UTSA won its second in a row. In addition, the Roadrunners improved their late-season record to 3-2 in the last five games going into next week’s Conference USA tournament.
“I’m going through a lot of emotions, to be honest,” Germany told reporters in his post-game interview. “I’m excited for the team to win. But I also…it didn’t really hit me until I was doing radio and looked over and saw my mom.”
On his parents’ late arrival, Germany just shrugged in sort of a “that’s life” type shrug.
“They almost didn’t even make it,” he said. “The only day out of the last four years.”
The game was close and competitive in the first half as Charlotte knocked down seven three-point shots, only to see UTSA hammer the ball inside, forging an 18-8 lead in paint points.
With UTSA leading by one coming out of intermission, the teams traded baskets for about five minutes before the Roadrunners hit the 49ers with a decisive 19-5 run. Germany capped the surge by knocking down a 12-foot jumper from the side with seven minutes left, boosting his team into a 66-53 advantage.
Charlotte rallied behind guard Brice Williams and center Aly Khalifa to within one point with 2:40 remaining, but UTSA made just enough plays at the end to hold on to the victory, seizing a measure of momentum leading into the postseason.
As much momentum as a team with 21 losses can have, anyway.
“We’re starting to click a little bit,” Germany said. “We stayed practicing the right way. We stayed together. We didn’t veer off. We had a few days where I wouldn’t say we all got better. But we brought each other back…stayed together through thick and thin. You keep doing the right things, and eventually it’s going to pay off.”
Even with the loss, Charlotte (18-12, 9-10) clinched the fifth seed in the tournament and a first-round bye.
Meanwhile, UTSA (10-21, 4-16) finished last in the C-USA standings and thus will take the No. 11 seed into next week. The postseason event — UTSA’s last in the C-USA given its impending move next year to the American Athletic Conference — will be contested from March 8-11 in Frisco, with the winner claiming an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
NCAA Selection Sunday is March 12, when the 68-team will be unveiled.
The Roadrunners did what they needed to do against the 49ers, who play a slow and deliberate Princeton-style offense. They kept the 49ers off the offensive boards and hit a solid 49 percent of their shots from the field. In the second half, their defense was good, with UTSA limiting Charlotte to 43 percent from the field and, more importantly, to four of 13 from behind the arc.
Only a rash of missed free throws in the last five minutes by the Roadrunners kept it from being a double-digit victory.
“It’s that time of year (when) teams want to get hot,” Germany said. “It’s toward the end of the year when everything starts to matter. It’s March. Literally all this month, it’s all about basketball. It’s a perfect time to get hot.”
Japhet Medor, John Buggs III and Germany were the three players at the start of the year who were expected to lead the team, and all delivered against the 49ers. Driving relentlessly to the rim, Medor finished with 22 points and five assists. Buggs hit four 3-pointers and had 18. Germany notched a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Combined, the three of them sank 19 of 32 from the field.
In addition, the bench played well, with point guard Christian Tucker producing five points, three assists and two steals in 19 minutes. Forward Lamin Sabally also contributed, throwing down a first-half dunk en route to three points and three rebounds.
A few weeks ago, at the tail end of an 11-game losing streak, players off the bench struggled. Now, the confidence as seen in the likes of Tucker and Sabally and Massal Diouf, a freshman, seems to be growing by the day.
“Losing has so many effects on a team,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “It chips away with your chemistry. It can chip away at your confidence. It can be very dificult for a team. But, yeah, I think there are quite a few guys playing with more confidence. Christian Tucker has been very good in the last month, at least. He gives us another guy that gives us some penetration. He sees the floor pretty well. He makes certain passes even better than Japhet does …. He’s giving us a little different element. It’s been great to have Lamin down the stretch step up and do some of the things we anticipated him doing, as well.
“Confidence certainly is a big part of it.”
Khalifa, a 6-11 forward for Charlotte, presented all sorts of problems for UTSA. He scored 27 points and made a game-high, five three-point buckets. Williams also had a big night with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Igor Milicic, Jr., a 6-10 transfer from Virginia, supplied 11 points and five rebounds off the bench.
UTSA 10-21, 4-16
Charlotte 18-12, 9-10
UTSA at Conference USA tournament, March 8-11, at Frisco
Guard Erik Czumbel entered into Senior Night with some trepidation because he knew that his father and mother and twin brother, who live in Italy, couldn’t make it to the game.
UTSA surprised him with a taped message from the three of them that was played on the video board before the game. A wide smile crossed Czumbel’s face when he heard his father and mother offer congratulations on his four-year career with the Roadrunners.
Czumbel was scoreless on 0-for-2 shooting in 10 minutes, but he finished a plus six in the plus-minus metric that measures a player’s impact on point differential. In the last minute, Henson put him in the game and then took him out moments later so that he could hear the crowd cheer for him one last time.
It’s long been the expectation that Germany would not be back at UTSA next season, but he said in his post-game interview with reporters that some of his teammates have talked to him about the possibility of returning to the team for a fifth year.
“I’ve had some conversations about it but it’s kind of like what I said earlier in the year, I’m kind of just focused on ending the season the right way,” he said. “But if you ask me in a month or so, then I might have a different answer for you.”