A crazy schedule? UTSA players ‘grateful’ for chance to play

Looking to bounce back from a dispiriting road loss, the UTSA Roadrunners on Tuesday announced a not-so-minor adjustment to their schedule, unveiling a plan to play on the road Thursday night at the University of Oklahoma.

Eric Parrish. UTSA beat UT-Permian Basin 97-71 on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020 in the men's basketball season opener at the Convocation Center.

Forward Eric Parrish drives to the bucket in last Friday’s season opener against UT Permian Basin. — Photo by Joe Alexander

The wrinkle sets up back-to-back games for the Roadrunners for the second time in two weeks, as they return home Friday night to meet the Division III Sul Ross State Lobos.

In most years, back-to-back games are rare unless they are played at neutral sites with multiple teams involved. But this isn’t any ordinary year. UTSA junior Eric Parrish said it’s all part of trying to get a season going during the coronavirus pandemic.

“With them extending the season to us, we’re grateful,” Parrish said. “We’re grateful for each game that we’re able to go lace ’em up.”

Last week, UTSA was scheduled to open its season at OU. But the game was called off because of Covid-19 issues in the Sooners’ program, forcing the Roadrunners to scramble travel plans and take a bus ride back to San Antonio on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving.

It all set up a two-game, season-opening test last Friday and Saturday.

On Friday afternoon, the Roadrunners played well and blew out the Division II UT Permian Basin Panthers, 97-71. That night, they took a five-hour bus ride to Edinburg, where they would spend the night in preparation for a Saturday afternoon game at UT Rio Grande Valley.

The Division I Vaqueros were ready and waiting for them. Forcing UTSA into a slow pace, UTRGV pounded out an 81-64 victory, leaving the Roadrunners in a bit of a funk for a good 48 hours. UTSA coach Steve Henson said players responded with enthusiasm Monday afternoon when it looked like they would get to play the OU game this week.

“It was kind of a cool deal yesterday,” Henson said. “We had a long meeting to recap the disappointments from Saturday. We had a good team meeting and had ’em speak in that meeting. When the meeting was over, I asked ’em if they had anything going on Thursday night.

“They kind of looked at me funny. I said, ‘Let’s go play Oklahoma then.’ They were pretty fired up. I think the opportunity to play an exciting game and get that taste out of our mouth, was a pretty exciting situation for our guys.”


Henson said he expects Jhivvan Jackson will be back in the starting lineup Thursday night at Oklahoma. Jackson came off the bench in his first game of the season Saturday at UT Rio Grande Valley.

UTSA cruises past UT Permian Basin, 97-71, in season opener

Eric Parrish has 20 points, 4 rebounds and 4 steals in his UTSA debut as the Roadrunners beat UT-Permian Basin 97-71 on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020 at the Convocation Center.

Eric Parrish scored 19 of his team-high 20 points in the first half in his first game for the UTSA Roadrunners. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Guard-forward Eric Parrish produced 20 points, four rebounds and four steals Friday in his UTSA debut, and the Roadrunners cruised to a 97-71 victory at home over the UT Permian Basin Falcons.

In addition, guard Keaton Wallace scored 19 points and center Jacob Germany 15 as the Roadrunners opened their 40th season as an NCAA Division I program.

Cedrick Alley Jr. UTSA beat UT-Permian Basin 97-71 on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020 in the men's basketball season opener at the Convocation Center.

Cedrick Alley Jr. made his debut by stuffing the stat sheet with seven points, five rebounds, three assists, a blocked shot and a steal. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Center Malik Brikat had 22 points and 15 rebounds for the Division II Falcons.

A few minutes into the game, the Roadrunners roared off on a 22-2 run to take charge. By the end of the streak, they were up 35-11. The Falcons never got closer than 16 for the remainder of the afternoon.

“I really liked the way we started the game,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “(It was) terrific to see Parrish and Cedric (Alley Jr.) get off to a good start. Those guys are going to be so important to our season. Didn’t really know how they’d respond in a game situation … certainly they responded very, very well.”

Both were making their UTSA debut. Parrish transferred to UTSA from Nevada last fall, and coaches hoped they could obtain a waiver that would have allowed him to play last spring. But it didn’t happen.

“It’s been a long time coming for him,” Henson said. “The transfer, the waiver (request), the waiting and waiting and waiting. To finally get out there and play, I know he was excited and relieved.”

Keaton Wallace had 19 points and a team-high five assists in UTSA's season opener as the Roadrunners beat UT-Permian Basin 97-71 on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020 at the Convocation Center.

Keaton Wallace had 19 points and a team-high five assists. — Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA won’t have much time to think about what went right and what went wrong against the Falcons. Game 2 looms in less than 24 hours.

The Roadrunners will play at 3 p.m. Saturday in Edinburg against Division I UT Rio Grande Valley.

“The game we just had is over,” Alley Jr. said. “It’s time to lock in on UTRGV and go down there and just handle business.”

Roadrunners star Jhivvan Jackson, the No. 2 scorer in the nation, is expected to play after sitting out against UTPB for violating team rules.

Nineteen seconds into the first game of the season, Parrish nailed a three pointer. He finished 7 of 11 from the field, including 2 of 4 from long distance.

Afterward, Parrish said he felt good about the team’s performance and tried to downplay his own contribution.

“I feel like I did some things well,” Parrish said. “Definitely a lot of things I’m going to look back on and see where I can improve and help my teammates. You know, it felt good to get this win. Now we’re looking forward to UTRGV.”

Parrish, a 6-foot-6 athlete with long arms, big hands and quickness, finished with 19 points and three steals at the half.

Alley, a 6-6, 230-pound transfer from Houston, hit three of his first four shots. Alley finished three of 11 from the field, but he filled the box with seven points, five rebounds and three assists, a blocked shot and a steal.

“If I could give myself a grade, I’d give myself a B minus,” he said. “I could have done a little bit more on the defensive end as far as rebounding. I don’t know how many offensive rebounds we gave up, a nice little amount, so I felt I could have brought a little more there.

“But, overall, I felt like I did a pretty good job.”

Playing off their defense, the Roadrunners rolled to a 57-29 halftime lead.

The Roadrunners held the Falcons to 31 percent shooting before intermission and cranked out an 18-2 advantage on fast-break points.

Even though UTSA star Jhivvan Jackson wasn’t playing, sitting out because of a violation of team rules, newcomers Parrish and Alley supplied energy and production from the very start.

Pandemic basketball

Not only was it UTSA’s first game of the season, it was also the team’s first during the Covid-19 pandemic, with attendance limited in the Convocation Center and with chairs on both benches separated to mitigate the risk of virus spread.

The setup present presented some unique challenges.

“You look down at the bench, and the bench is all spread out. (You) Look down to sub someone in and you got to find where they’re sitting,” Henson said. “One of the things we’re going to have to figure out, is how we can get a little more communication with the assistants.

“Usually I’m up quite a bit. Walking up and down. When I do sit, (the other) coaches are giving me some pretty good input. Now, that’s a little harder. They’re farther away. I would have liked to have communicated with them a little bit better … We’re missing that because we’re so spread out.”

Starting over

Because of the pandemic, UTSA’s schedule has already taken a hit.

The Roadrunners took a flight to Oklahoma Tuesday and found out Wednesday morning that their season-opening game that night had been postponed because of Covid-19 issues in the Sooners’ program. So, they boarded a bus Wednesday afternoon and traveled back to San Antonio.

“I feel like it took a lot out of us mentally because we were so well prepared,” Alley said. “But we couldn’t do nothing about it. It’s like a blessing from above because we could have (gone) out there and played (had) someone spread it to the team, and we’d have been out for two weeks. So it’s a blessing that we were able to come back and have a game today.”

Coming up

UTSA (1-0) at UT Rio Grande Valley (0-1), 3 p.m.

Efforts to improve defensively dominated UTSA’s offseason

Steve Henson. UTSA lost to Middle Tennessee on Saturday at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Steve Henson says he likes the way his players have embraced a commitment to improved play on the defensive end. – Photo by Joe Alexander

A year ago, optimism soared among followers of the UTSA basketball program. Coming off two straight winning seasons, and with a high-scoring backcourt duo returning, the Roadrunners were picked to finish second in Conference USA.

For a variety of reasons, the season didn’t work out the way the pundits thought it might, and it didn’t come close to what Coach Steve Henson wanted.

UTSA finished 13-19 overall and 7-11 in the C-USA. The Roadrunners, seeded 10th in the conference’s postseason tournament, lost on opening night in Frisco to the UAB Blazers.

On Tuesday morning, eight days before the season opener at Oklahoma, Henson reflected in a telephone interview on what went wrong last winter and what the program has done to address the shortcomings going into his fifth season on campus.

“Certainly the initial response, and the most glaring area, was the defensive end,” he said. “We talked about that in the post-game on many nights (last year).

“We just didn’t get where we needed to on the defensive end. We didn’t defend at a level high enough to win enough ball games. So, that was the talk — that was all the talk in the offseason.

“It was, ‘How do we change that? How do we change our approach?’ Certainly it starts with me and having more focus and more emphasis, more time (devoted to it) in our early workouts, and we’ve done that,” Henson said.

Led again on the offensive end by Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace, the Roadrunners will employ some new personnel to the rotation in hopes of improving on a defense that ranked in the lower half of C-USA in field goal and three-point percentage allowed.

“I think we’ve got a group that’ll be more committed on that end,” Henson said “They want to make improvements on that end of the floor, and they understand that we can’t reach our goals unless we defend at a high level.”

The Roadrunners are looking to a pair of transfers, Cedrick Alley, Jr. and Eric Parrish, to help make up for the loss of Byron Frohnen and Atem Bior. Both will play roles in the positions of small and power forward, Henson said.

In the C-USA’s latest preseason poll, the Roadrunners are pegged for ninth place. Quite a snub for a program that won 20 games in 2016-17 and 17 in 2017-18. Both years, the Roadrunners finished 11-7 in conference.

So far this fall, Henson said he likes what he has seen from his players, in terms of embracing the defensive mindset.

“Oh, very much so,” he said. “We’ve added some new faces and we think that will help. More importantly, it’s our … commitment and our focus.

“Again, that starts with me and our coaches, just making sure that that’s the priority. We’ve got talented guys offensively, and we assume we’ll be able to put the ball in the hole.

“Now, we weren’t great offensively. I don’t think we were anywhere near we needed to be offensively, either. But all the talk has been defense — (how to avoid) the breakdowns, how to simplify things schematically on the defensive end, mindset, effort.

“All those things go into it.”


After a shaky start, UTSA romps past Our Lady of the Lake, 99-64

UTSA beat Our Lady of the Lake 99-64 on Saturday at the UTSA Convocation Center. Keaton Wallace led UTSA with 30 points. - photo by Joe Alexander

Playing with a head cold, Keaton Wallace scored a team-high 30 points Saturday against Our Lady of the Lake . – photo by Joe Alexander

Shrugging off a slow start, the UTSA Roadrunners roared to their highest point total of the season in a 99-64 victory Saturday afternoon over the NAIA Our Lady of the Lake Saints.

Keaton Wallace, battling a cold and a sore throat, nearly didn’t play but emerged as the focal point in the UTSA attack with 30 points.

Jhivvan Jackson, the leading scorer in NCAA Division I, added 20 as the Roadrunners improved to 6-2 in their last eight games leading into conference play.

After the first 10 minutes, the game tilted into UTSA’s favor, with the home team building a 52-43 lead at half.

The visiting Saints, under pressure from bigger and more physical athletes, never came within single digits after intermission.

UTSA outscored OLLU 47-21 after intermission.

OLLU was limited to 29 percent shooting for the game, including 18.4 percent in the second half, in front of an announced 1,087 at the Convocation Center.


UTSA 6-7
Our Lady of the Lake 4-10

Coming up

UTSA opens Conference USA competition on Thursday at Florida Atlantic University, followed by a Saturday game at Florida International.

Starting the second season

Roadrunners coach Steve Henson wasn’t thrilled with the slow start and sporadic execution on offense against an out-manned opponent in OLLU.

But he said he feels good about the team leading into the road trip to Florida.

Steve Henson. UTSA beat Our Lady of the Lake 99-64 on Saturday at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Steve Henson states his case with a referee Saturday during a lopsided victory over Our Lady of the Lake University. – photo by Joe Alexander

In the team’s last game before Christmas, it played well in routing Illinois State, 89-70.

“The more I watched (on film), our defense in that game was really, really good,” Henson said. “So, I feel good about it. The rebounding continues to improve. You see the progress on film.

“We’re contesting shots (with) legitimate hands in the face. We’re right up on guys. That’s been a noticeable improvement.”

First half summary

Trailing for most of the first half, the Roadrunners woke up in time to outscore the Saints by nine at intermission.

Henson called time out 90 seconds into the game to emphasize the need to guard against the three-point shot.

OLLU kept firing away, anyway.

Jared Embry nailed a three-pointer, one of seven for the visitors before intermission, boosting the Saints into a 17-12 advantage with 15:35 remaining.

But the Roadrunners responded by outscoring the San Antonio-based Saints 40-26 the rest of the way, with Wallace (16 first-half points) and Jackson (13) taking the lead.

Wallace, who was sleeping in the training room during a morning shoot-around, hit 6 of 10 from the field and 3 of 5 from three-point territory.

He nailed a three from the top of the arc at the halftime buzzer.

For the game, the junior from Dallas finished 11 of 16 from the field, hitting a variety of drives and mid-range floaters. He also nailed and 5 of 9 from three.

On playing with a cold, Wallace said, “I feel like when I’m on the court, I just stop thinking about it. It’s just a different type of mindset, I guess.”

By the numbers

UTSA started the season 0-5, with all of the losses coming away from home. Within its recent 6-2 streak, the Roadrunners have been 5-1 at home. Three of those victories (against Wiley, UT Permian Basin and OLLU) have come against sub-NCAA Division I programs. They are 0-2 against D-I power conference opponents (Oklahoma and Oregon State) and 0-1 against Utah State, ranked 15th in the nation at the time.

New player in town

Well-traveled forward Eric Parrish has joined the UTSA basketball program and was on the bench for the OLLU game.

UTSA announced Parrish’s signing on Dec. 10. He is a 6-foot-6 wing who was rated as the No. 4 junior college player in the nation last season.

UTSA men's basketball player Eric Parrish. - photo by Joe Alexander

Newcomer Eric Parrish, one of the top junior college players in the nation last season, was on the bench with the Roadrunners Saturday. – photo by Joe Alexander

It’s possible Parrish could play for the Roadrunners this season, but Henson said it won’t be right away.

“He’s got two things going,” Henson said. “He’s not eligible right now, and he’s got an injury. About a week ago, about the same day he got admitted to school, he was training and he broke his finger.”

Initially, coaches thought the injury might require a long-term recovery. Henson said that after review, Parrish is “several days away from practicing.”

It’s uncertain when the NCAA will rule on the eligibility appeal. But the coach said it won’t be by Thursday’s conference opener.

Parrish began his collegiate career at Akron in 2017-18, where he averaged 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds. He started 21 of Akron’s 32 games as a freshman.

Following the season at Akron, Parrish transferred to Bossier Parish Community College (La.) for 2018-19, and he responded by averaging 18.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.0 blocks.

Parrish joined the program at Nevada last summer. But Nevada announced in late October that he had left school. He didn’t play for the Wolf Pack, according to a report at nevadasportsnet.com.