UTSA makes a key defensive play late, defeats Rice, 90-88

The UTSA Roadrunners spent most of Saturday night trying unsuccessfully to keep the Rice Owls from scoring.

Led by guard Ako Adams, Rice was hitting from everywhere, building an 11-point advantage with 12:35 remaining.

But down the stretch, the Roadrunners kept playing.

And then they got the stop that they needed, forcing a turnover on an inbounds play and racing the other way for the winning basket and a 90-88 victory over the slumping Owls in Houston.

After Rice inbounded, UTSA’s Byron Frohnen came up with a loose ball and passed ahead to freshman Erik Czumbel, who out-ran the defense and drove for a layup with one second remaining.

In response, the Owls threw up a desperation shot from three quarters of the court but the clock had expired, giving a much-needed Conference USA road victory to the Roadrunners.

Records

UTSA 10-11, 4-4
Rice 9-13, 1-8

Crazy ending

UTSA had a chance to break a tie score with less than a minute remaining when Jhivvan Jackson misfired on a long three. With the game deadlocked at 88-88, Rice called time with 32 seconds left.

The play went to Ako Adams, who was unstoppable for most of the game. But as Adams drove to the bucket Keaton Wallace blocked the shot, sending it out of bounds. Rice had possession under its own goal.

At that point, Drew Peterson inbounded. Frohnen came up with it for the Roadrunners and sent it out in a winning transition play that Czumbel, a freshman, finished with a left-handed drive.

Road success — at last

With the victory, UTSA improved to a modest 2-10 in games played away from home this season, including 2-6 on the road and 1-4 in Conference USA.

By the numbers

UTSA — Jackson, the nation’s second-leading scorer, tallied 14 of his game-high 25 points in the second half. He also had seven rebounds, five assists and two steals. Keaton Wallace kept UTSA in the game in the first half with 14 of his 24 points, and he added four rebounds and three assists.

Czumbel scored 11 on four of four shooting, including three of three from 3-point distance. He scored eight points after halftime.

Rice — In a devastating shooting display, the Owls hit 11 of their 18 three-pointers in the second half. Adams hit six of them. Payton Moore and Quincy Olivari three apiece. All told, the Owls were 18 of 35 from distance. Adams led the Owls with 21 points, while Josh Parrish had 17.

Streaks

UTSA had lost its last five games away from home — a neutral-site loss to Oregon State in Houston and four C-USA road games at Florida Atlantic, Florida International, UTEP and North Texas.

The Roadrunners’ last victory outside of San Antonio came on Dec. 7 in non-conference play at Texas State.

Rice has lost five games in a row overall and nine of its last 10.

Czumbel could get start at point guard tonight for UTSA

UTSA guard Erik Czumbel is averaging 4.4 points in 12 minutes off the bench through five games. - photo by Joe Alexander

Erik Czumbel is averaging 4.4 points in 12 minutes off the bench through UTSA’s first five games. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Hoping to break through with their first victory of a new season, the UTSA Roadrunners are considering a change in the starting lineup on the eve of tonight’s home opener.

UTSA coach Steve Henson said Thursday he may start with freshman Erik Czumbel at point guard when the Roadrunners play the NAIA Wiley College Wildcats.

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at the Convocation Center.

Asked if Czumbel could get his first start, Henson said it could happen.

“We haven’t made the full decision on that, but there’s a very good chance,” the coach said.

Surprisingly, the Roadrunners haven’t won any of their first five games.

Moreover, they couldn’t sustain much consistency in a road opener at Oklahoma, in three neutral-site games in Florida and, finally, in a 32-point road loss Monday at 15th-ranked Utah State.

“We haven’t played the way we expected to, the way we are capable of, against some really, really good opponents,” Henson said. “We expected to be a little further along than we were.

“(It was a) tough start. We got to figure some things out. We got to defend better. Got to get better possessions offensively. We got to settle into a (playing) rotation.

“It’s a combination of everything.”

Hopes were high coming into the season with the presence of scoring stars Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace and a cast of promising newcomers.

With those two 20-point scorers from last year returning, the Roadrunners were picked to finish second in Conference USA.

Readying for a three-game homestand, UTSA has yet to make much magic.

The Roadrunners come in shooting an unsightly 34 percent from the field as a team. They’re averaging only 63 points. Opponents are averaging 81, including 86.5 the past two games.

“We haven’t been making shots, and we haven’t been getting the stops we needed,” Jackson said. “We’re really ready to step it up and start winning some games.”

Henson hopes that a return to the home court will help.

He also hopes that by playing Czumbel more at the point, he can relieve Wallace from some of his ball-handling responsibilities and allow him to start finding open spaces and knocking down more threes.

“We got to get Erik in there a lot more, because that’s going to help Keaton and Jhivvan,” Henson said.

UTSA’s starting backcourt tonight could be Czumbel, with Jackson and Wallace on the wings.

In that case, senior Byron Frohnen likely moves to the power forward, with either Atem Bior or Luka Barisic at center.

For the past three years, the Roadrunners started Giovanni De Nicolao at the point, and he emerged as a steady passer and ball handler who didn’t shoot much unless a play broke down.

He was solid defensively.

Czumbel has also exhibited strong defensive capabilities, but on offense, he has proven to be more of a shooter than a facilitator — at least, to this point.

The 6-3 guard from Italy, averaging 4.4 points in 12 minutes through five games, has has hit 8 of 13 from the field and 5 of 9 from three.

He has four assists and four turnovers.