East Carolina rides early surge to an 84-73 victory over UTSA

PJ Carter. East Carolina beat UTSA 84-73 in American Athletic Conference men's basketball on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Guard PJ Carter scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half during a UTSA rally that fell short in an 84-73 loss to the East Carolina Pirates. – Photo by Joe Alexancer

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.

East Carolina coach Michael Schwartz. East Carolina beat UTSA 84-73 in American Athletic Conference men's basketball on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

East Carolina coach Michael Schwartz worked at UTSA in the 2004-05 season as an assistant coach under Tim Carter. – photo by Joe Alexander

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.

Jordan Ivy-Curry. East Carolina beat UTSA 84-73 in American Athletic Conference men's basketball on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA guard Jordan Ivy-Curry scored 14 points on six of 11 shooting from the field. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“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.”

Adante' Holiman. East Carolina beat UTSA 84-73 in American Athletic Conference men's basketball on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Roadrunners guard Adante’ Holiman moved into the starting lineup and finished with 11 points, three rebounds and two assists. – Photo by Joe Alexander

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.”

First half

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.

Records

East Carolina 12-12, 5-6
UTSA 8-16, 2-9

Coming up

UTSA at Charlotte, Thursday, 6 p.m.

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 forward Brandon Johnson gets loose for a breakout and a dunk against UTSA on Saturday afternoon.

East Carolina women open their AAC schedule with an 82-54 victory over UTSA

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

The East Carolina Pirates, a proud team that reached the NCAA tournament last year out of the American Athletic Conference, lost by 37 points at home last weekend. The loss came at the hands of the nation’s No. 1-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks.

As a result, the Pirates wanted to make amends Tuesday night, and they did so by rolling in their AAC opener to an 82-54 victory over the UTSA Roadrunners. Karina Gordon scored 22 points and Danae McNeal added 20 for the Pirates (8-4, 1-0).

Gordon, a freshman from Hallandale Beach, Fla., hit six of nine shots from beyond the 3-point arc.

Missing a couple of key players, the Roadrunners (6-7, 0-2) never could get their game untracked at the Minges Coliseum, the home of the Pirates in Greenville, N.C. They had the game tied 8-8 early, but they watched as the Pirates made a blizzard or three pointers early and were no match for the home team.

UTSA was without senior forward Jordyn Jenkins and freshman guard Aysia Proctor. Guard Madison Cockrell led the Roadrunners with 13 points. Center Elyssa Coleman chipped in with 11.

Records

East Carolina 8-4, 1-0
UTSA 6-7, 0-2

Coming up

Wichita State at UTSA, Saturday, 2 p.m.

Third quarter

East Carolina continued to dominate defensively in the period, holding UTSA to 12 points. As a result, the Pirates cruised to a 62-36 lead after three quarters. McNeal imposed her will in the period with nine points, three assists and a steal for the Pirates.

The Roadrunners kept the Pirates off the scoreboard for much of the quarter but couldn’t score offensively. Consequently, the Roadrunners fell behind by as many as 27 with a little more than two minutes to go.

Halftime

Gordon scored 17 points and added 11 as the East Carolina Pirates took a commending 45-24 lead on the Roadrunners at halftime.

Gordon knocked down five of East Carolina’s eight first-half 3-pointers. In all, she was five of nine from the field and five of seven from distance.

McNeal contributed on both ends, producing five steals and a block to complement her three of eight shooting on the offensive end.

The Pirates led by as many as 25 points at 41-16 with 3:36 remaining in the second quarter.

Playing without star forward Jordyn Jenkins and freshman guard Aysia Proctor, the Roadrunners didn’t have the firepower to match the Pirates.

East Carolina limited UTSA to nine of 33 shooting from the field and forced 16 turnovers. Elyssa Coleman led the Roadrunners with five points. Hailey Atwood and Idara Udo had four apiece.

First quarter

The Pirates hit five three-pointers in the quarter and constructed a 14-4 run in the final five minutes to take a 25-13 lead.

Guard Karina Gordon knocked down three 3-points for the Pirates. Danae McNeal contributed on the defensive end with three steals. Both Gordon and McNeal finished the period with nine points.

UTSA had a tough time getting anything going, committing 10 turnovers and shooting 5 of 16 from the floor. Idara Udo had four points and three rebounds.

Notable

It’s been a long four days for UTSA in its first foray into the AAC.

In the team’s opener, the Roadrunners traveled to Philadelphia to play at Temple on Saturday afternoon. UTSA played the home team on even terms for three quarters. But soon after they rallied to lead by two early in the fourth quarter, they watched as the Owls went on a 20-5 run to the buzzer, claiming a 71-58 victory.

Afterward, the Roadrunners returned home and practiced Sunday, on New Year’s Eve, in San Antonio. They took a flight on Monday to North Carolina to get ready to play the Pirates, who won the AAC postseason title last year and played in the NCAA tournament.

UTSA played East Carolina without two of its top offensive players. Jenkins (knee) hasn’t played this season. In addition, the Roadrunners took the floor in Greenville without freshman guard Aysia Proctor. Proctor suffered an injury that required a trainer’s attention during Sunday’s practice.

On a mission: UTSA women carry a winning record into AAC play

Sidney Love. UTSA beat UTEP 90-66 in women's basketball at the Convocation Center on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA sophomore point guard Sidney Love averages 12.2 points to lead UTSA in scoring. She also shoots 87 percent at the free-throw line to lead the American Athletic Conference. -File photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

History beckons for a surprisingly resilient UTSA women’s basketball team preparing to take its first steps on a hardwood court in the American Athletic Conference.

Transitioning to the AAC after 10 seasons in Conference USA, the well-traveled and road-tested Roadrunners (6-5) will carry a winning record into a two-game AAC road swing.

They’ll play Saturday in Philadelphia against the Temple Owls (6-6) and Tuesday in Greenville, N.C., against the East Carolina Pirates (7-3).

Kyra White. UTSA beat New Mexico State 58-55 in women's basketball on Friday, Nov. 10, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Kyra White ranks among UTSA team leaders in scoring (10.6), rebounding (5.5) and assists (4.1).- File photo by Joe Alexander

“I’m excited to start American play,” UTSA coach Karen Aston said Thursday afternoon. “It’s always exciting to get to a place where the stakes are higher … I’m excited to get it started.”

Like UTSA, both Temple and East Carolina are programs that have seen hard times recently and have taken steps to upgrade.

Aston understands the challenge that awaits.

“These road games, you can look at it two different ways,” she said. “I mean, we do start (conference) on the road against experienced teams that have kind of taken their lumps in the American, and now they’re on the other side of it.

“But on the flip side, the good thing about it is, we get these out of the way when we’re not in school. I think that’s a huge factor for us.”

As one of six new women’s basketball programs in the AAC, UTSA is no longer the cupcake on everyone’s NCAA Division I schedule.

In fact, the Roadrunners have six victories against D-I competition and have registered a winning overall record at the Christmas break for the first time in 10 years.

Coming off eight straight losing seasons, the Roadrunners are listed at No. 144 in the NET rankings, which puts them in the top half of programs in Division I.

For the fans, it’s been remarkable to see the dramatic changes under Aston, who is in her third year as coach.

“Like night and day,” UTSA senior Kyleigh McGuire said in a Dec. 13 interview. “When coach Karen came in here, she had a mission, and she recruited people and staff that fit into that plan and would buy in at 100 percent — and never let up.”

Led by guards Sidney Love and Kyra White and center Elyssa Coleman, the team has veteran talent and savvy at those three key positions.

Elyssa Coleman. UTSA beat UTEP 90-66 in women's basketball at the Convocation Center on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Center Elyssa Coleman has emerged in her junior year as a force inside with 10.3 points per game, all while leading UTSA in rebounding (7.4) and blocks (1.7). – File photo by Joe Alexander

In addition, the Roadrunners also are getting major contributions from two freshmen in guard Aysia Proctor and forward Idara Udo.

Forward Jordyn Jenkins, the Player of the Year in Conference USA last season, hasn’t played yet due to a knee injury. But, her absence from the lineup hasn’t had too much of a negative effect on the team, all things considered.

In four games against Power 5 competition, UTSA came out of it winless at 0-4, but three of the losses were by single digits. Once, the lost by five at Texas Tech. On another day, they lost at home by two to Houston.

Also, road games haven’t bothered them too much. They’re 4-3 record on the road so far. Before Christmas, the Roadrunners took on a daunting challenge with two games in the north west corner of the United States and came out of it with a split.

Despite poor shooting, they were within five points against the Pac-12’s Oregon Ducks with four minutes remaining, couldn’t sustain the momentum and lost by 13. A few days later, playing at Seattle, they jumped out to an early lead, ballooned it to 23 in the second half and eventually downed the Seattle Redhawks, 75-64.

Granted the RedHawks are 1-9, but this time two or three years ago, the Roadrunners weren’t winning many games on the road against anyone.

“It’s always good to win your last game before you go home for the holidays,” Aston said of the victory at Seattle. “It always bodes well for the break and how you feel about taking a few days off. I think the break was much needed for us. We had a lot of travel in nonconference play.

Aysia Proctor. UTSA beat UTEP 90-66 in women's basketball at the Convocation Center on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA freshman Aysia Proctor from Clemens High School has supplied scoring (9.4) and rebounding (5.5) off the bench. She also isn’t shy about playing on the road, as she scored 20 points at Oregon. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“I thought we had a chance at Oregon, so it was disappointing we didn’t take advantage of that opportunity. But on the other side of it, when I watched the film, I thought we did some really good things. We just didn’t make shots.”

Rebounding kept UTSA close against Oregon, as it has all season.

“A lot of that was because we didn’t make shots and we had a lot of offensive rebounds,” the coach said. “But, they’re big. They have size. We haven’t seen anything like that. It was a little bit shocking in the beginning, but we adjusted in the second half.

“You know, there’s been a couple of these games that, had we showed up a little better in the first half, we’d have had a chance to win.”

Perhaps most promising for the Roadrunners leading into AAC competition is the play of Proctor and Udo, the two precocious freshmen.

Proctor, a 5-8 guard from San Antonio-area Clemens High School, is averaging 9.4 points and 5.5 rebounds in 22.1 minutes. She has scored in double figures in three straight games, including 19 against Houston and 20 against Oregon.

Against the Ducks, she was the only UTSA player shooting it with authority against a quality opponent, and she also pulled down 11 rebounds in the game.

Udo, a physical 6-1 post player from Plano, is averaging 6.3 points and 6.4 rebounds in 18.7 minutes. Against Seattle, she came off the bench for 19 points and nine rebounds.

“It’s always good to have more people in your rotation,” Aston said. “Those two have established themselves, definitely, in the rotation at this point.”

Aston said she is not surprised at how much the two freshmen have accomplished.

“Honestly, I thought they would contribute to our team,” the coach said. “We recruited players that maybe added something to the table that we didn’t have previously.

“I mean, Aysia can really score the ball, and she’s learning in all the other areas of the game. But the flat-out truth is, she can score the basketball. And we need somebody who can score it, and she adds that, and I thought she would.”

In many ways, both Proctor and Udo have softened the blow for the team in trying to make up for the loss of Jenkins.

Proctor has stepped in to establish herself as an offensive threat, a 50.5 percent shooter from the field, while Udo has held her own as a defender-rebounder who can also score.

Idara Udo (No. 25) had a key blocked shot with 7 seconds left. UTSA beat New Mexico State 58-55 in women's basketball on Friday, Nov. 10, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Idara Udo had a key blocked shot with 7 seconds left as UTSA beat New Mexico State 58-55 on Nov. 10. – Filer photo by Joe Alexander

Aston lauded Udo’s work ethic.

“She’s taken advantage of the opportunity, and she has made the absolute most of it every single day,” the coach said. “What she does in the games is based on what she does every day in practice. I think that bodes well for her career.

“Anytime a player comes to play in practice every day, you can’t help but play ’em (in games).”

Notable

During UTSA’s game at Seattle on Dec. 19, an ESPN broadcaster described Jordyn Jenkins‘ playing status as “day to day.” Asked after practice on Thursday if anything was new on UTSA’s 20 points per-game scorer from last season, Aston declined comment. The coach has said previously that UTSA doesn’t want to rush anything in her rehabilitation. Jenkins, who has been described as a player with pro potential, injured her right knee in April.

UTSA leaders

Scoring

Sidney Love 12.2
Kyra White 10.6
Elyssa Coleman 10.3
Aysia Proctor 9.4

Field goal percentage

Aysia Proctor 50.5
Elyssa Coleman 44.0
Idara Udo 43.3
(35 or more attempts)

Three-point percentage

Siena Guttadauro 33.3
Kyra White 30.0
Sidney Love 24.0
(21 or more attempts)

Free-throw percentage

Sidney Love 87.0
Kyra White 64.7
Maya Linton 63.0
(17 or more attempts)

Rebounding

Elyssa Coleman 7.4
Idara Udo 6.4
Aysia Proctor 5.5
Kyra White 5.3

Assists

Kyra White 46
Sidney Love 33

Steals

Sidney Love 17
Maya Linton 15
Kyra White 10

Blocks

Elyssa Coleman 19
Kyra White 15
Idara Udo 12

Karen Aston. UTSA beat UTEP 90-66 in women's basketball at the Convocation Center on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Karen Aston’s UTSA Roadrunners will play the Temple Owls Saturday in Philadelphia in the program’s inaugural game in the American Athletic Conference. – File photo by Joe Alexander

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