Marshall advances with 95-81 victory over UTSA

Playing from behind all night, the UTSA Roadrunners rallied furiously to pull within five points of the Marshall Thundering Herd in the closing minutes of the second half.

From there, the Roadrunners twice had chances to hit shots and make it a one-possession game.

But fourth-seeded Marshall held No. 5 UTSA scoreless on both tries, turning the stops into a 95-81 victory in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA men’s basketball tournament.

The tournament is being played in Frisco, in the Ford Center at the Star.

With the victory, Marshall (22-10) moves on to play ninth-seeded Southern Miss in a semifinal game set for 12:30 p.m. Friday.

Southern Miss (16-17) made the semis by shocking the top-seeded Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders, 71-68, in overtime.

For UTSA (19-14), its dream of a berth in the NCAA tournament has been dashed.

But an opportunity looms to play in another postseason event, perhaps the National Invitation Tournament, the College Basketball Invitational or the tournament.

Regardless, none of that was consolation to the Roadrunners, who put together their best season in six years, won the tournament opener Wednesday night against UTEP but then failed to sustain the momentum.

“Our guys are pretty disappointed in there, and I think that’s a good sign,” UTSA coach Steve Henson told the team’s radio broadcast. “They really believed we could come here and win a bunch of games and give ourselves a chance.

“I wouldn’t want it any other way. You know, we wouldn’t want guys to be in there content or coming over to this tournament not thinking we’re going to win it.

“So, they’re a little disappointed right now. Their heads are down.”

Henson told KTKR radio that “we’re kind of planning on playing in (another) tournament” early next week.

“So, we’ll have to bounce back real quickly,” he said. “You got to put this one behind you. The dream of the Big Dance (the NCAA tournament) is behind us now. We’ll go play some more good basketball.”

Guard C.J. Burks led Marshall with 29 points, hitting 9 of 16 from the field. Forward Ajdin Penava added 22 points.

On the glass, Penava dominated with 12 boards and Burks pulled down nine. Point guard Jon Elmore ran the show with 15 points and 11 assists.

“They’re a good team,” Henson said. “They just spread the floor so well. They made good plays.”

Getting off to a fast start, the Thundering Herd raced to an 18-point lead in the first half.

UTSA cut it to 11 at the intermission. But Marshall stepped on the gas again, building a 15-point margin seven minutes into the second half.

At that juncture, the Roadrunners started to play their best ball of the night. They rallied to within 74-69 when Giovanni De Nicolao hit a jumper.

But that was as close as it would get.

UTSA made a couple of stops, only to come up empty offensively when Deon Lyle missed a three, followed by De Nicolao having his runner blocked by Jannson Williams.

Williams followed his block with a free throw, and then a three-point shot, boosting Marshall into a nine-point lead. UTSA never got closer than six the rest of the way.

Playing without injured Jhivvan Jackson, the Roadrunners probably didn’t have enough weapons to win the tournament.

But forward Byron Frohnen had his second double-double in two nights with 16 points and 13 rebounds.

Forward Nick Allen and guard George Willborn III also scored 16, with freshman Keaton Wallace coming off the bench for 13.

Lyle was held to 2-of-15 shooting and five points.

Florida International hangs on to beat UTSA, 79-76

UTSA sophomore guard George Willborn III fires up the home crowd down the stretch with a tomahawk dunk.

Trailing by a dozen points with 12:10 remaining Thursday night, the UTSA Roadrunners finally started to show some spunk against the Florida International Panthers.

They started pushing the pace. Attacking the basket. Putting some pressure on the visiting team.

Unfortunately for UTSA, it was not enough.

The Panthers held off the fast-closing Roadrunners 79-76 before 1,218 fans at the Convocation Center.

“We had some opportunities to win,” UTSA guard George Willborn III said. “(But) … we can’t wait until the last minute of the game to try to get things going.”

With the victory, FIU improved to 8-9 on the season and 2-2 in Conference USA. UTSA, in losing its second straight, fell to 9-9 and 2-3.

FIU’s Eric Lockett drives to the bucket early in the second half.

The Panthers’ backcourt dominated the game.

Point guard Brian Beard produced 20 points, eight assists and four rebounds. Trejon Jacob had 16 points and Eric Lockett 15.

When Jacob and Lockett weren’t hitting long three-pointers, they were dominating on the glass. The two combined for 15 rebounds.

For the most part, FIU held UTSA’s top scorers in check. At the half, Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace were a combined 1-for-11 from the field.

Jackson got going in the second half, finishing with a team-high 22 points. But Wallace struggled throughout, shooting 0-for-7 from the floor and 0-4 on three-pointers.

Willborn, making his first start, finished with 15 points, 7 rebounds, a steal and a block.

UTSA forward Byron Frohnen gets to the hoop in the first half.

Florida International led, 47-37, at intermission on the strength of its long-distance accuracy.

FIU hit seven three-point shots, including three by Jacob.

UTSA, meanwhile, couldn’t get its offense out of neutral.

The Roadrunners shot 38.7 percent from the field and turned it over six times in falling behind by double digits at the break.

Coming up

UTSA hosts Florida Atlantic at 2 p.m. Saturday.

UTSA erupts for a 125-64 victory over first-year Ottawa

UTSA guard Giovanni De Nicolao takes it inside to score in the first half Thursday night. Video:

UTSA sophomore guard George Willborn III says he considers basketball a team game.

With that, he credited teammates for his career-high, 22-point explosion Thursday night in a 125-64 rout over the Ottawa Spirit at the Convocation Center.

“It’s a team game,” Willborn said. “We worked hard on defense and got a lot of easy buckets. That was our main focus.”

The Roadrunners (5-3) placed six men in double figures and hit 50 percent from the field en route to the fourth-highest scoring game in the school’s 37-year history.

Out-rebounded by 20 in a 100-96 loss at Tulsa Tuesday night, UTSA dominated the boards 67-33. The 67 rebounds were a school record.

Willborn punctuated his best individual effort in two years by nailing 8 of 16 from the field and making all three attempts from 3-point range.

Guard Tanner Riley scored 14 to lead the Spirit (2-7), who are in their first season as a program.

With solid execution on both ends, the Roadrunners built a 37-point lead at halftime (62-25) and stretched it to as many as 63 points (123-60) with less than two minutes remaining.

Playing against a less-established program, with smaller and less-athletic players at virtually every position, it would have been easy for UTSA to let the game get sloppy.

But coach Steve Henson said he liked his players’ approach.

“We kept talking to our guys about playing the right way, defending the right way, making the right play,” Henson said. “We had a lot of success in driving it and scoring in the paint. We just told our guys to continue to focus and keep it simple.”

UTSA’s highest-scoring games

136-68, vs. East Central Oklahoma, 11-22-2008 (Coach Brooks Thompson)
132-97, vs. Texas State, 11-24-1990 (Coach Stu Starner)
128-70, vs. Georgia State, 2-10-1990 (Coach Ken Burmeister)
125-64, vs. Ottawa, Ariz., 11-30-2017 (Coach Steve Henson)
118-97, vs. Centenary, 1-12-1991 (Coach Stu Starner)