Wallace’s slam punctuates UTSA’s romp past FIU, 100-67

UTSA guard Keaton Wallace throws down a dunk in the second half of the Roadrunners' 100-67 victory over Florida International on Thursday at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA guard Keaton Wallace throws down a dunk in the second half of the Roadrunners’ 100-67 victory over Florida International on Thursday at the Convocation Center. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Phi Slama Jama, they aren’t.

But Keaton Wallace and Nick Allen raised some eyebrows anyway, throwing down second-half dunks Thursday night to punctuate UTSA’s 100-67 victory over the FIU Panthers.

Wallace scored 27 points to lead the Roadrunners.

An announced crowd of 1,493 at the UTSA Convocation Center watched as UTSA stormed to a 17-2 lead in the first six minutes.

Bidding for their first Conference USA title, the Roadrunners never trailed in the game and pumped the lead to 20 at halftime and to 30 with 11:43 remaining.

With the performance, UTSA extended its home winning streak to nine in a row, the longest for the Roadrunners in 27 years.


FIU 14-10, 5-6
UTSA 14-10, 8-3

Title chase

Old Dominion leads the C-USA race with a 9-3 record, followed by UTSA and North Texas at 8-3.


Wallace, a 6-3 sophomore from Dallas, has averaged 32.5 points per game in his last four. Most of his damage is done outside the three-point arc, as he has hit 25 from distance in that stretch, but his second-half dunk created a stir.


“I tried to stay calm, but I kind of wanted to jump and down like everyone else. That was pretty impressive. Keaton didn’t always show that type of athleticism a year ago. He really didn’t show it that much in the offseason. It’s just kind of happened as the season’s gone along.” — UTSA coach Steve Henson.

First half

Despite a quiet first half from leading scorer Jhivvan Jackson, the UTSA Roadrunners powered to a 20-point lead on the FIU Panthers.

Jackson, who scored 76 points in two road games last week, hit only one basket — a three-pointer — in six attempts from the field.

But Jackson’s friends more than made up for it.

Shooting 61.8 percent in the first half, the Roadrunners employed the offensive skills of several players to run away from the Panthers.

Giovanni De Nicolao had 11 points and led three players in double figures. Keaton Wallace and Atem Bio scored 10 apiece.


FIU — Brian Beard, Jr., 14 points, 5 of 11 shooting, 3 streals. Devon Andrews, 14 points, 5 of 12. Osasumwen Osaghae, 5 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks.

UTSA — Keaton Wallace, 27 points, 5 of 6 from three-point range, 6 rebounds, 4 assists. Giovanni De Nicolao, 16 points, 5 rebounds. Jhivvan Jackson, 13 points, 4 of 15 shooting, 6 assists, 2 steals. Atem Bior, 12 points, 5 of 7 shooting. Nick Allen, 11 points, 10 rebounds.

Resilience defines Steve Henson’s UTSA Roadrunners

Steve Henson, UTSA beat Mid-American Christian 104-74 on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Coach Steve Henson has led UTSA into first place in Conference USA. – Photo by Joe Alexander.

In the first few years of the Steve Henson era at UTSA, one characteristic of his core group of players stands out above all the rest. It’s resilience. Physically, the Roadrunners won’t overwhelm anyone. But, like a wily boxer backed up on the ropes, they will deliver a devastating counter-punch when least expected.

Take, for instance, last year’s trip to Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders thrashed the Roadrunners by 24 points and dropped them to 10-11 overall and 3-5 in Conference USA. But on the second stop on the trip, they somehow came up off the mat and delivered a few haymakers, winning 82-70 at UAB.

The rest is history, as the Roadrunners finished 20-15, including 11-7 in conference — the first 20-win season at UTSA in seven years. This season, it’s happened again. Starting the year without their best player, they plunged into their first few games and came up looking like Jerry Quarry against Muhammad Ali. They were 0-5 and reeling.

Jhivvan Jackson. UTSA beat Southeastern Oklahoma State 70-67 on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jhivvan Jackson sat out the first three games this season to complete rehabilitation from a knee injury. He’s averaged 20.5 points since his return.

Undaunted, players on a trip to Florida for the Gulf Coast Showcase talked among themselves and got some things straightened out. Since then, UTSA has ripped off a 10-2 record, including a seven-game winning streak and a school-record tying 4-0 start in conference.

Given all that, I talked to Coach Henson yesterday as he prepared his team for a return trip to Murfreesboro. I asked about his core group — Nick Allen, Giovanni De Nicolao, Byron Frohnen, Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace — and why he thinks those players are so resilient, so capable of handling adversity.

Here’s his response, in a Q&A format:

“A lot of factors there. It’s a very mature group. It’s a secure group. Got good leadership. And we’ve got so many guys whose only priority is finding a way to win. Doing whatever it takes to win. It’s a competitive, tough group. I’ve said it before. It’s not the type of group you’d literally want to get in an alley fight with. Basketball toughness, this group has it. They care about each other. There’s never been panic.

“This year, when we got off to a slow start, panic never set in. They knew we could right the ship. We just kept telling ’em, we have everything we need on this team to have a great year. And they believed that.

“Last year, you’re right on it. We lost a couple of games at home against teams that were not projected to be in the top half. We had an unbelievable stretch upcoming. Went to Middle Tennessee, and we were down 30 in that game. The next day, we had a great practice, a great film session.

“Pulled a few guys aside, the guys taking most of the shots. Jhivvan, Keaton and Deon (Lyle). Showed ’em their shots. Talked about getting better shots. Continuing to have that freedom, shooting it freely. Shooting it quickly. But let’s turn down a good shot for a great shot.”

Byron Frohnen. UTSA beat Southeastern Oklahoma State 70-67 on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Junior Byron Frohnen doesn’t need many shots to be effective. He leads the Roadrunners in rebounding. – Photo by Joe Alexander

So, part of it is just being coachable?

“Probably more succinct than what I just said, but, yeah. Willingness and coachability. For sure. Our season did turn at UAB last year. It was one of our best games of the year offensively and defensively. It was huge, because we were coming back home to play Marshall and Western Kentucky. With UTEP looming. So, our backs were against the wall. And our guys responded very, very well.”

When you’re recruiting, how do you find players who have those qualities?

“It’s hard. You watch body language. You talk to coaches. We try to recruit from successful programs. Guys who are used to winning. There’s great value in that. A lot of coaches value that. Sometimes, there’s going to be some unknowns. You just try to do as much work as you can … You want guys that just love to play, guys that are hungry. Guys that care about their teammates.”

It sounds as if some of the players got together after the loss to South Dakota State earlier this season and talked it over.

“When your players take ownership of your program, you’ve got a much better chance of being successful. I mean, we want it. We know they want it. They know coaches want it. When it comes from them, it’s got much more weight. And it doesn’t have to be upperclassmen.

“You know, leadership can come from anyone. When it comes from the players, it means a lot. Not surprised that they were frustrated (on the trip to Florida). But they also know that we could turn it around. (That) there was no doubt. I keep talking abouut panic. But there was no doubt. They believed.”

Last Saturday, UTSA played its trademark tough defense in defeating North Texas, 76-74. With the performance, the Roadrunners snapped the Mean Green’s eight-game winnning streak and took over first place in the conference.

Mama Mia! UTSA routs Rice, 95-79, for sixth straight victory

Junior guard Giovanni De Nicolao had 19 points and 7 assists in UTSA's 95-79 Conference USA victory over Rice on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Junior guard Giovanni De Nicolao broke out of a shooting slump by scoring a season-high 19 points, to go along with 7 assists, in a 16-point victory against Rice. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The UTSA Roadrunners cranked up a high-energy offense Thursday night, rolling past the Rice Owls, 95-79, for their sixth straight win.

UTSA’s winning streak is the team’s longest in three years under Coach Steve Henson and the longest overall since 2010-11, when the program last qualified for the NCAA Tournament.

In addition, the Roadrunners improved to 3-0 in conference for the first time since 1990-91, when they won the Trans America Athletic Conference regular-season crown.

Only one team in school history started 4-0, and it happened 30 years ago in 1988-89, also in the TAAC.

UTSA will try to match that start on Saturday night when it hosts the North Texas Mean Green in a game between in-state rivals, both undefeated in Conference USA.

North Texas improved to 16-1 and 4-0 in C-USA after winning 58-51 on the road at UTEP.

Against the Owls, Jhivvan Jackson led the Roadrunners with 24 points, and Nick Allen had 20. Giovanni De Nicolao produced 19, while Keaton Wallace had 16.

Allen and De Nicolao hit individual season highs in scoring on a night when the Roadrunners also notched the most points in a game this year against a Division I program.

Rice men's basketball coach Scott Perra. - photo by Joe Alexander

Rice coach Scott Pera. – Photo by Joe Alexander

In the locker room afterward, Henson congratulated the players on reaching a goal of making fewer than 10 turnovers — they had eight.

But perhaps the story of the night indiviually was De Nicolao, a junior guard from Italy, who entered the game shooting 31 percent from the field and 10.9 percent (3 of 29) on three pointers.

“Finally,” De Nicolao said. “Lately I haven’t been shooting well. My three (point) percent is awful. Finally I got some shots (to go in).”

De Nicolao hit 7 of 13 from the field and 3 of 6 from long distance. On one of his threes in the second half, UTSA fans were chanting, “Mama Mia,” in a salute to his Italian heritage.

He also saw some fans giving him an Italian hand gesture, with the thumb pressed against fingers, which De Nicolao also enjoyed.

“I mean, everybody thinks it’s something in Italian,” he said, making the gesture for emphasis during his post-game interview with reporters. “This means, like, ‘What are you doing?’ in Italian. Like when you drive, and somebody cuts you off, it’s like, ‘What are you doing?’

“It doesn’t really mean anything. But everyone in America thinks it’s something. I don’t know. It’s fun. I like it.”


UTSA 9-7, 3-0
Rice 7-10, 2-2

Giovanni De Nicolao and Keaton Wallace nail three-point baskets on consecutive possessions late in the first half.

First half

The Roadrunners unleashed a fast-paced offense and multiple shooters en route to a 46-37 lead at the intermission.

It was UTSA’s highest-scoring half since Dec. 17 when they hit for 56 against NAIA Bethany, Kansas.

De Nicolao had perhaps his best offensive half of the season with 12 points on 4 of 6 shooting, including 2-for-2 on three-pointers.

Allen also touched the ball frequently and scored 10, hitting 4 of 8 shots. Wallace added 10 and Jackson eight.

Rice leaders

Quentin Millora-Brown, 14 points, on 7 of 9 shooting, 9 rebounds. Chrs Mullins, 14 points. Ako Adams, 10. Trey Murphy III, 10.

Rice entered the game with some momentum, having won back-to-back games at home against Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech.


The record for the longest winning streak in school history? It’s 13 games, which was established in 1983-84, in the third year of the program.


Asked whether UTSA could score 95 every night, Henson said, “Well, there were some reasons for it that I was excited about. The 95 points didn’t really mean anything. But the limited turnovers — we had been talking about that for weeks and weeks … We got a team that plays fast and aggressively, but that doesn’t mean we’ve got to turn the ball over. So, finally, tonight was the night (with eight, and 22 assists).”

UTSA sophomore Jhivvan Jackson, who entered the night as the second-leading scorer in C-USA, hits a jumper late in the second half over Rice big man Jack Williams. Jackson sank 9 of 23 from the field, 3 of 10 from three and 3 of 3 on free throws.

UTSA’s De Nicolao weighing options on pro basketball

Giovanni De Nicolao. Texas State beat UTSA 69-68 on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018 at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Giovanni De Nicolao drives to the bucket against Texas State.

UTSA junior Giovanni De Nicolao confirmed Friday that he is on pace to graduate in the spring and could elect to make the jump to professional basketball next season.

De Nicolao, from Padua, Italy, is a third-year starting point guard for the Roadrunners.

He made his remarks as UTSA (2-6) prepares to host NAIA Mid-America Christian (6-3) on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Convocation Center.

“I still have open thoughts about everything,” De Nicolao said. “I didn’t make my mind (up), for sure. I’m … talking to people at home, about going back there and playing in Europe or in Italy.

“But, I also have the opportunity (to stay at UTSA). It’s always good to finish your four years eligibility and get a masters (degree).”

UTSA coach Steve Henson said he knew in the summer that this season might be De Nicolao’s third and last as a Roadrunner.

It all depended on whether his playmaker could take a heavier course load in the fall and the spring to earn an undergraduate degree.

De Nicolao said he is set to complete 17 hours this fall — he is currently holding down five ‘A’ grades and one ‘B’ — and another 16 hours in the spring.

He said he also needs to complete an internship next summer to complete his kinesiology degree requirements.

Henson said he is proud of De Nicolao for his work in the classroom, which will yield an earlier-than-anticipated degree, all while opening a door to get a jump start on a pro career — if that’s what he wants.

“It gives him options, which is great,” Henson said. “You never want to restrict someone in a situation like that. He made the decision to come to the (United) States. He came here to get a degree and play college basketball. The plan all along was to go back and hopefully play professionally back home.

“So, the fact that he’s able to do all that in three years is pretty impressive. But we didn’t want him to shut the door on the opportunity to come back (UTSA), you know. If we have a good year and at the end of the year he decides that he wants one more year, one more crack at it, we want that to be an option for him, as well.”

De Nicolao has started and played every game for the Roadrunners (76 in all) since arriving for the 2016-17 season.

He is averaging 7.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists this year.


UTSA is coming off a 69-68 home loss to Texas State last Saturday. Sophomore guards Keaton Wallace and Jhivvan Jackson are leading UTSA in scoring at 17.6 and 16.8 points per game, respectively. Jackson has played five games since returning from a knee injury.


“I like the mindset. We’re defining and refining roles a little bit more this week. I think everybody’s settling in and understanding the significance of that. Hopefully that’ll allow us to be more efficient offensively. That’s the big key right now. We’re playing pretty hard defensively … But offense is where we’ve got to be sharper.” — UTSA coach Steve Henson, on the team’s recent practices.

UTSA vs. OU photo gallery

UTSA freshman guard Tamir Bynum. Oklahoma beat UTSA 87-67 on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA freshman guard Tamir Bynum.

Oklahoma beat UTSA 87-67 on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center.

UTSA vs. St. Edward’s photo gallery

St. Edward's beat UTSA 77-76 in men's basketball on Wednesday night, Nov. 8, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center. Keaton Wallace had 15 points for the Roadrunners. - photo by Joe AlexanderSt. Edward’s beat UTSA 77-76 in men’s basketball on Wednesday night, Nov. 8, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center.

UTSA’s season ends with 76-69 playoff loss to Sam Houston State

UTSA guard Giovanni De Nicolao drives against Sam Houston State at the UTSA Convocation Center on Thursday, March 22, 2018 in the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com tournament.

UTSA sophomore guard Giovanni De Nicolao drives against Sam Houston State in the CIT quarterfinals. Photo by Joe Alexander.

An emotional UTSA coach Steve Henson addressed reporters Thursday night, explaining the difficulty of delivering a proper message to his players following their last game of the season.

“That’s always a tough conversation,” Henson said. “You know, you’re never totally prepared for it. Going into tonight’s game, (you’re) expecting to win and hoping to win and play next week, so, it was tough. A very tough locker room.”

Trailing by 12 early in the second half, Sam Houston State rallied to eliminate UTSA on its home court with a 76-69 victory in the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament.

An announced crowd of 1,352 watched as the visitors from the Southland Conference hit the home team with a late 17-2 run over a five-minute span to take charge.

With the surge, Sam Houston turned a 57-50 deficit into a 67-59 lead with five minutes remaining.

The Roadrunners (20-15) of Conference USA never got closer than five the rest of the way.

Ultimately, the Bearkats (21-14) won the game at the free-throw line. They hit 27 of 34 to only 7 of 13 for the Roadrunners.

UTSA players took the loss hard.

“I want to keep this feeling, right here, for all summer, how I hurt right now, to work out all summer, to get better and to win the conference (next year),” UTSA guard Giovanni De Nicolao said.

Sam Houston State’s Josh Delaney (15) drives hard to the bucket and dishes to teammate Freddy Bitondo (0) for a layup mid-way through the second half.

Statistical leaders

Sam Houston State: John Dewey III, 18 points, including 13 in the second half. He hit 8 of 10 free throws. Cameron Delaney, 13 points, 6 rebounds. Chris Galbreath, 11 points, 12 rebounds. Josh Delaney, 11 points, 5 assists.

UTSA: Keaton Wallace, 18 points on 6 of 11 shooting, 3 of 7 from three-point distance. Giovanni De Nicolao, 17 points on 7 of 13, including 3 of 5 from three. Nick Allen, 11 points, 4 of 12. Byron Frohnen, 8 points, 4 rebounds. Deon Lyle, 5 points on 2 of 9, 1 of 7 from three.

UTSA forward Byron Frohnen runs the floor and gets the ball for an easy shot late in the first half against Sam Houston State.

First-half highlights

The UTSA Roadrunners hit eight three-pointers in the first half, breaking out to a 37-28 intermission lead.

Wallace led the long-distance barrage, nailing three shots from beyond the arc.

De Nicolao and Allen added two more apiece as the Roadrunners nailed 8 of 16 overall.

Defensively, UTSA played well, holding Sam Houston to 10 of 30 from the field and 4 of 6 free throws.

UTSA guard Giovanni De Nicolao hits a three from the corner early in the first half against Sam Houston State.

Game notes

UTSA players wanted a CIT championship, but they did bring home a 20-win season — only the seventh in the program’s 37 years.

The Roadrunners played its sixth straight game without leading scorer Jhivvan Jackson, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Feb. 24 against Louisiana Tech. UTSA went 3-3 in his absence, including 1-1 in the C-USA tournament and 1-1 in the CIT.

Cameron Delaney, a junior guard from Harker Heights, sparked Sam Houston’s decisive 17-2 run with three-pointer, a steal and another basket.

The Bearkats played without guard Marcus Harris, who injured his foot Monday night in a 69-62 home victory over Eastern Michigan. Harris played in high school in San Antonio for the MacArthur Brahmas. He is averaging 9.7 points per game.

CIT quarterfinals

Saturday’s game
Central Michigan at Liberty

Thursday’s results
Sam Houston State beat UTSA, 76-69

Wednesday’s results
Illinois-Chicago beat Austin Peay, 83-81
Northern Colorado beat San Diego, 86-75

UTSA’s 20-win seasons
Year, record, head coach

1983-84: 20-8 (Don Eddy)
1987-88: 22-9 (Ken Burmeister)
1989-90: 22-7 (Ken Burmeister)
1990-91: 21-8 (Stu Starner)
1991-92: 21-8 (Stu Starner)
2010-11: 20-14 (Brooks Thompson)
2017-18: 20-15 (Steve Henson)

UTSA guard Keaton Wallace plays defense against Sam Houston State's Dajuan Jones at the UTSA Convocation Center on Thursday, March 22, 2018 in the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com tournament.

UTSA freshman guard Keaton Wallace plays defense against Sam Houston State’s Dajuan Jones. Wallace finished with a team-high 18 points. Photo by Joe Alexander.

De Nicolao’s steady play triggers UTSA’s free-wheeling offense

UTSA point guard Giovanni De Nicolao drives to the bucket Thursday night in the first half against Rice. Video: thejbreplay.com

Giovanni De Nicolao admits that he faced a period of social adjustment when he first arrived in San Antonio in 2016.

Born and raised in Italy, he was a long way from home.

Giovanni De Nicolao

“Initially it was a little bit hard,” UTSA’s sophomore point guard said. “Everything is different, away from family. When I got here, I didn’t know anybody, but I adapt easily.

“Especially, with the coaches, they did a really good job. (Incoming players in) my class, my freshman class, we were just friends – on the basketball team and also outside (of the gym). That was kind of, last year, my family.”

If De Nicolao has ever been homesick, it’s been hard to tell based on his performance level on the court.

In a little more than two seasons with the Roadrunners, he has started every game.

At the moment, the 6-foot-3 guard from Padua, Italy, is sort of like the maestro of a finely-tuned orchestra.

With De Nicolao’s hands on the ball coming up court, free-wheeling UTSA (8-6, 1-0) ranks second in the conference in scoring at 86.6 points leading into tonight’s home game against North Texas (8-6, 1-0).

He leads a fast-improving program in assists (3.8) and steals (2.1) and is second in minutes played (25.3).

“He hasn’t had a bad day in a year and a half,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “He hasn’t had a bad practice. Every day, he walks in and he’s ready to practice. He’s all about the right things. He never takes a practice off.”

Henson traced that mindset to De Nicolao’s background in basketball.

“His dad is a coach,” Henson said. “He’s got an older brother that plays (professionally). He’s grown up the way a lot of kids in the states (did) 20 years ago (in) the way he thinks.”

De Nicolao is a pass-first guard, always looking for his teammates. He shoots only when the situation calls for it.

“The point guard position has changed so much,” said Henson, who once played the position at Kansas State. “So many of the elites, those guys they watch in the NBA, those guys are the leading scorers on their teams.

“He’s a little more of a throw-back guy. He’s about running the show and leading with his defense and penetration and assists.”

Last year, the Roadrunners struggled to shoot from the perimeter, meaning that De Nicolao often found himself forced to make a play when the shot clock was running down.

This year, with freshmen sharp-shooters Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace on the floor, the pressure is off the lead guard.

De Nicolao said it’s almost like a point guard’s dream to play on this team, with so many confident shooters.

“As you say, if someone miss one or two in a row, I’m going to find them again to get the third one, because I know they’re going to make it,” De Nicolao said. “Also, I don’t have to pass only to one guy. I can distribute the ball.

“I can get it to Kea(ton), Deon (Lyle), to Jhivvan, and I know they’re all going to make the shot. If they miss one, I know the next one is going to go in.”

De Nicolao acknowledged that he feels more at ease on the court this year, in part, because of his solid friendships and a growing familiarity with his surroundings.

“That definitely impact my game, because I feel more free, and secure,” he said.

Even so, De Nicolao said he talks regularly via FaceTime with members of his family back home.
He said he typically calls home following an afternoon practice, or, between 11 p.m. and midnight in Italy.

The conversations invariably turn to basketball.

“Both my brothers are both point guards,” De Nicolao said. “Also, my dad, he was a point guard. So, we have that point guard mentality.”

In San Antonio, he feels most at home with his closest friends, his teammates.

De Nicolao said after a Friday workout that he likes UTSA’s chances for continued success because of players’ unselfish attitude about the game.

“I think we have real good freshmen this year,” De Nicolao said. “Not only can they score. Not only can they make shots. But, they also pass the ball really well. Today I noticed (that) nobody forced a shot. We’re always trying to make an extra pass to get someone open.

“Whoever is going to shoot the ball, everyone is excited, because we know (it’s) going to go in.”

The ball moves quickly in UTSA’s offense, this time from Jhivvan Jackson on the left, to Giovanni De Nicolao in the middle. De Nicolao promptly executes a touch pass to Keaton Wallace for the three-pointer. Video: thejbreplay.com