East Carolina rallies late to down UTSA in AAC semifinals

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Frustrated for most of the game by poor shooting, the ninth-seeded East Carolina Pirates rallied behind guard Danae McNeal in the fourth quarter to stun the No. 4 UTSA Roadrunners 55-54 in the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals.

UTSA led by 11 points twice early in the fourth period in its quest to reach the AAC finals in its first year in the conference. But, with McNeal taking over late, East Carolina came back to claim a most improbable victory.

Roadrunners coach Karen Aston said she remains “super proud” of her team despite the loss.

“It’s always, I think, hard to describe what that type of loss feels like for your team,” Aston said. “You feel as a coach responsible, first of all, and heartbroken for them.

“I thought they played really, really good. In particular, the first half, I thought our defense was spectacular, and then I thought they settled in, inside. I thought they started to get a presence in the paint in the second half and we struggled with that.

“Then it just boils down to a five-minute game that we made a couple of turnovers, and then we just didn’t get stops when we needed to. I didn’t think either team was great offensively. We just couldn’t get the stops that we needed at the end of the game.

“Again, heartbreaking.”

For most of the game, held at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, the Pirates seemingly couldn’t hit a shot.

In the second quarter, for instance, they were 3 for 14, as the Roadrunners built a nine-point halftime advantage. As the game went on, East Carolina continued to struggle, with the Pirates trailing by nine at the end of three periods.

With 8:27 left in the game, UTSA took a 45-34 lead when forward Jordyn Jenkins connected on a layup. From there, East Carolina started to mount the comeback. McNeal scored nine points down the stretch, including a go-ahead jumper with 39 seconds remaining.

Setting the stage for McNeal’s clutch offensive play, the Roadrunners had the ball on the side, inbounding, with a one-point lead. But they were called for five seconds, with the turnover giving the Pirates possession.

In response, McNeal brought it up and elevated at free-throw line, burying the jumper for a 53-52 lead. The Pirates never trailed again. At the end, McNeal missed a couple of free throws, giving UTSA one last chance.

Roadrunners guard Aysia Proctor retrieved the ball, weaved through traffic and missed a heave from half court to end the game.


East Carolina 19-13
UTSA 17-14

Coming up

East Carolina will play for the AAC title and the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament Wednesday night. Game time is at 6 p.m. at Dickies Arena. The Pirates will face either the Rice Owls or the Temple Owls. For UTSA, the season might not be over. A chance exists that the Roadrunners could play in another tournament.


Center Amiya Joyner led the Pirates with 15 points and 13 rebounds. She had four points, three rebounds, a blocked shot and a steal in the fourth period. Khia Miller also had a key bucket in the late run and finished with 14 points. McNeal, a first-team, all-AAC player, finished with 11 points on 4 of 18 shooting.

For the Roadrunners, Jenkins led the team with 14 points on 5 of 16 shooting. Sidney Love scored 10 and Kyra White and Cheyenne Rowe nine apiece. UTSA shot 35 percent from the field for the game. In the fourth quarter, the Roadrunners were 6 of 17 from the field and committed six turnovers.


“It’s hard. We had plans to play tomorrow, and we were all playing for our seniors and playing for ourselves, and it’s a tough outcome and it’s just one of those things that we can’t get back. It’s probably going to stick with us. I know it’s going to stick with me for a little bit, but I’m proud of the team and I’m proud of everybody.” – UTSA’s Jordyn Jenkins

First half

Rowe played only three minutes and went scoreless in UTSA’s American conference quarterfinal victory Monday night against South Florida. One night later, Rowe emerged to take over the game in the second period.

The 6-foot-2 reserve forward went three for three from the field for seven points in the half. Meanwhile, the Roadrunners settled down after a shaky start, played a solid second quarter and went into the dressing room leading the Pirates, 25-16, in the AAC semifinals.

In the early going, the Roadrunners played with some nerves. They turned the ball over three times in the first five minutes. Fortunately for them, the Pirates failed to take advantage. Their shooting was off from the start. UTSA utilized a late burst to take an 11-10 edge after one quarter.

As the second period started, UTSA had settled itself down and found a rhythm. Guard Kyra White nailed two three-pointers. Coach Karen Aston dipped deep into her bench, particularly in the frontc0ourt, and brought in Rowe and 6-foot-4 Nissa Sam-Grant.

Rowe responded with a burst that allowed UTSA to open up a lead. Moving around under the bucket, she would find an open space, receive a pass from the perimeter and take it up strong to score. Defensively, UTSA played well. Fortunately for the Roadrunners, the Pirates weren’t shooting it very well, either. As a result, ECU hit only 3 of 14 in the second quarter and 7 of 31 for the half.

Third quarter

As East Carolina continued to struggle on the offensive end, UTSA took advantage of the situation and kept its lead at eight four minutes into the third period. Sidney Love, who hasn’t looked to score much in Fort Worth, made an aggressive play that seemed to catch the Pirates off guard. Love took it inside and scored a layup, drew a foul and hit the free throw for a 31-23 Roadrunners lead.

Pushing back, the Pirates started to make a move. Amiya Joyner hit a couple of baskets and a free throws. East Carolina pulled to within three.

But the Roadrunners weren’t finished yet, either. Jordyn Jenkins started to heat up. First, she worked inside, scored and drew a foul. Jenkins completed the three-point play. Next, she took it inside again, got fouled and converted two more free throws. She finished the quarter with five points to give her nine for the game.

UTSA took a 41-32 lead into the fourth quarter.


On Jan. 2, East Carolina walloped UTSA, 82-54. In the game played at Greenvlle, N.C., the Pirates scored 31 points off 29 UTSA turnovers, handing the Roadrunners their worst loss of the season. Saddled with an 0-2 record in conference at the time, UTSA didn’t flinch. The team rallied to win 10 of its last 16 in conference to finish 10-8, pulling down the No. 4 seed in the AAC tournament.

East Carolina finished 9-9 in conference and entered the postseason as the ninth seed. The Pirates beat the Memphis Tigers 65-63 on Sunday and downed the top-seeded Tulsa Golden Hurricane 75-71 on Monday to reach the semifinals. With the double bye, UTSA opened tournament play Monday. The Roadrunners rallied in the fourth quarter Monday to edge fifth-seeded South Florida, 58-56.

Newcomers hope to make their mark in UTSA women’s basketball

Idara Udo at UTSA women's basketball practice on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Freshman Idara Udo hoists a shot at UTSA women’s basketball practice Wednesday afternoon at the Convocation Center. Udo, a 6-foot-1 forward, played in high school at Plano East. – Photo by Joe Alexander

With less than a month remaining in preseason camp, the UTSA Roadrunners are hard at work. Here are some images of new faces on the team, including freshmen Idara Udo, Aysia Proctor and Emma Lucio and also sophomore transfer Cheyenne Rowe, all first-year players in the program. Nissa Sam-Grant was with the team last year but did not play, and so she, too, hopes to make her debut as the Roadrunners work toward a Nov. 1 home exhibition game against St. Mary’s University and a Nov. 6 regular-season opener on the road at Arizona State.

Aysia Proctor

Aysia Proctor at UTSA women's basketball practice on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Aysia Proctor, a 5-foot-8 freshman guard from Clemens High School in Schertz, emerged last year as one of the top players in the San Antonio area. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Emma Lucio

Emma Lucio at UTSA women's basketball practice on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Emma Lucio, a 5-9 guard, arrives at UTSA coming off a standout career in the Rio Grande Valley at Edinburg Vela High School – Photo by Joe Alexander

Cheyenne Rowe

Cheyenne Rowe at UTSA women's basketball practice on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Cheyenne Rowe, a 6-2 forward who played in high school in Ontario, Canada, spent last season at James Madison University. She transferred to UTSA in the spring. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Nissa Sam-Grant

Nissa Sam-Grant at UTSA women's basketball practice on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Nissa Sam-Grant also played her high school basketball in Canada. She comes from Toronto. Sam-Grant played at Arkansas-Pine Bluff for two seasons and at Panola College for one before coming to UTSA, where she practiced but did not play in 2022-23. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Idara Udo

Idara Udo at UTSA women's basketball practice on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Forward Idara Udo was an all-district player four years in a row at Plano East, including first-team in her last three years. She was defensive player of the year twice, once as a sophomore and again as a senior. – Photo by Joe Alexander