UTEP’s second-half shooting stops UTSA’s upset bid

Down by 11 at halftime and struggling on offense, the UTEP Miners heated up with seven 3-pointers after intermission and finally subdued the UTSA Roadrunners, 69-64, on Thursday night at the Haskins Center in El Paso.

UTEP, paced in the second half by long-distance shooting from Jorell Saterfield, handed UTSA its fifth straight loss and kept the Roadrunners winless in Conference USA. The Miners have won two in a row and three of their last four.

Dogged by injuries and Covid-19 issues, the Roadrunners played only seven players — six of them on scholarship, plus walk-on forward Isaiah Addo-Ankrah. Division I basketball programs are allowed up to 13 scholarships.

Notable

The Roadrunners, sparked by Addo-Ankrah’s nine points off the bench in 17 minutes, stayed in the game through much of the second half until the Miners took over.

Quotable

“We’re not going to let our guys off the hook,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said on the team’s radio broadcast. “We had enough guys to play, and we had enough guys to win. We just didn’t make enough plays down the stretch. Need to be a little tougher.

“Yeah, there was some fatigue. Some guys had never played big minutes (in college). Especially the young guys who had never done it … Isaiah, for him to go in there in that setting and do what he did, was pretty impressive.”

Germany’s big night

Junior center Jacob Germany led the Roadrunners with 21 points and 10 rebounds. He hit 9 of 18 from the field, including some long jump hooks. Senior guard Darius McNeill added 19 points, 5 rebounds and an assist. Both McNeill and guard Erik Czumbel played all 40 minutes.

Phoenix Ford had 11 points off the bench for the Roadrunners, who shot 63 percent from the field in the first half but only 28 percent after intermission.

For the Miners, Souley Boum scored 22, Saterfield had 18 and Jamal Bieniemy 11 points. Saterfield hit six of the Miners’ 10 three-point shots. Bieniemy also totaled 8 rebounds and 4 assists.

First half

Playing without Jordan Ivy-Curry for the third straight game, the Roadrunners shot 63 percent from the field and rolled to an improbable 38-27 lead before intermission. UTSA hit its first six shots for a 12-3 lead to set the tone.

The Roadrunners also finished strong by hitting its last three before the half. Germany, a 6-foot-11 lefthander, led the way with 14 points on 7 of 8 shooting. McNeill started and scored 10.

On the defensive end, UTSA was just as effective, holding UTEP to 33 percent (10 of 30 afield), with Boum scoring 13 to keep his team in the game.

The Roadrunners started with a lineup that included McNeill and Erik Czumbel at the guards, Lamin Sabally and Lachlan Bofinger at forwards and Germany in the post.

Notable

The UTSA men’s basketball program announced that the following players would not be available for Thursday night’s road game against the UTEP Miners: Aleu Aleu is out with a season-ending injury. Also, Josh Farmer, Jordan Ivy-Curry and Christian Tucker are all in COVID protocols.

Within the past few weeks, the Roadrunners have also lost guard Dhieu Deing, who left the team to turn professional, and power forward Cedrick Alley, Jr., who is academically ineligible. Both are expected to be lost for the season. Deing was the team’s leading scorer and Alley was the leading rebounder.

Records

UTSA 7-12, 0-6
UTEP 10-8, 3-3

Coming up

Sunday — UTEP at UTSA, 3 p.m.
Jan. 27 — FIU at UTSA, 7 p.m.
Jan. 29 — FAU at UTSA, 1 p.m.
Feb. 3 — UTSA at Rice, 7 p.m.
Feb. 5 — UTSA at North Texas, 5 p.m.
Feb. 7 — UTSA at Middle Tennessee, TBD

UTSA walk-on Christian Tucker makes his presence known

Christian Tucker. UTSA beat St. Mary's 76-65 in men's basketball on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA freshman Christian Tucker, a 6-foot-3 guard from Chandler, Ariz., has been around the game all his life. His father was director of security for the Phoenix Suns. — Photo by Joe Alexander

With a key player injured and with the Conference USA portion of the schedule looming at the end of the month, the UTSA Roadrunners clearly will need a boost in the next three or four games.

They’ll need to develop some additional firepower to augment the production of Dhieu Deing, Jacob Germany, Jordan Ivy-Curry and Cedrick Alley Jr. They’ll need a better flow to their offense, for sure.

When the ball swings around the perimeter, and it lands in the hands of someone who bobbles it or hesitates, UTSA can look extremely ordinary and, against the better teams, quite vulnerable.

To be better, the team will need someone else to emerge.

Lately, one source of optimism has been supplied by walk-on freshman guard Christian Tucker, who has stepped into an injury-related void in the backcourt and has slowly started to gain the confidence of coaches.

In the absence of senior Darius McNeill, who has a foot injury, hasn’t played in the last two games and still isn’t practicing, Tucker has jumped in to try and make a name for himself.

Given the opportunity, the 6-foot-3 walk-on from Chandler, Ariz., has shown a savvy presence, modest bursts of offense and some clutch play.

Averaging about 15 minutes in UTSA’s last three games, Tucker has scored a combined 14 points in that stretch, displaying a knack for driving, drawing contact in the paint and knocking down free throws.

He is 11 for 13 at the line combined against Lamar, St. Mary’s and Phoenix, Ariz.-based Grand Canyon University.

“I feel like my all-around game is pretty good,” Tucker said. “But every time I’m able to get in the paint to make a play, or make a strong layup, I feel like I can do that. Not really many people can stop me from doing that, so I might as well just go to it.”

Tucker scored nine points in 12 minutes off the bench in a 79-73 victory over Lamar on Nov. 24. McNeill went down with a foot injury that day, so it was a welcome sight for Roadrunners coaches.

“He’s doing a heck of a job,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “First night we really played him, you could see his court savvy. His gamesmanship. Drew a bunch of fouls that night.

“He had a couple of games where the defense got after him pretty good. But then he settled back down. Made some big shots. Made some big free throws for us.”

Another moment came against St. Mary’s on Nov. 29 when he took a pass from Deing, drove to the rim and was fouled in the waning moments of a close game. He made both free throws to help seal the victory.

“He’s a real confident guy,” Henson said. “Very mature, you know. I’m not surprised. Again, he wasn’t playing at all and then we threw him in there.

“So, he’s going to continue getting comfortable. Like I said, he’s got the right maturity level and confidence level to be able to do what he did.

“That wasn’t easy. To just throw him in there all of a sudden. He’s produced pretty well.”

Tucker, a native of Mission Hills, Calif., moved to the Phoenix area when he was a toddler.

Though he enjoyed playing soccer and flag football as a kid, basketball was his passion.

His father worked as director of security for the Phoenix Suns, so he was around some of the greatest players in the NBA.

“It’s been really good for me,” Tucker said. “Being surrounded by basketball my whole life, it’s pretty much all I know. Watching NBA players, watching all sorts of players compete … has been really good.”

Watching him at practice, you get the feeling that he would enjoy playing basketball even if games were held on a black top somewhere, with chains hanging on the rims instead of nets.

A few days ago, his group made a defensive stop, prompting Tucker to let out a loud scream that could probably be heard in the upper reaches of the Convocation Center.

At the start of the year, he wasn’t playing. Now he is, and Tucker said he welcomes the opportunity. He admitted it feels “really” good.

“My biggest thing is doing whatever it takes to make sure we win,” he said. “As long as I keep doing that, I feel like I can keep getting playing time.”

Coming up

Saturday, 3 p.m. — UTSA (5-4) vs. Sam Houston State (3-5), at Houston, in the Toyota Center.