Beating the blues: UTSA whips North Texas to snap three-game skid

UTSA's Jhivvan Jackson celebrates with teammate Jaja Sanni after the Roadrunners' 77-69 victory over North Texas on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA’s Jhivvan Jackson celebrates with teammate Jaja Sanni after the Roadrunners’ 77-69 victory over North Texas. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Another bout with the basketball blues loomed for the UTSA Roadrunners.

One more week with a bad feeling in the pit of the stomach, followed by grinding practices and lingering questions about the viability of the ball club.

Trailing by one point at home against the North Texas Mean Green with 3:38 remaining, the Roadrunners were on the brink of getting swept in a two-game series for the second week in a row.

It didn’t happen. In perhaps a pivotal moment in their season, they deployed a small lineup, executed well on both ends of the floor and claimed a 77-69 victory Saturday over the Mean Green for their first win in Conference USA.

UTSA center Jacob Germany throws down a dunk with 2:18 left to give UTSA a 69-65 lead in a 77-69 victory over North Texas on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA center Jacob Germany throws down a dunk with 2:18 left to give UTSA a 69-65 lead. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“It was great,” UTSA guard Keaton Wallace said. “We had guys making good plays. We were knocking down shots and getting stops. All the way down to the end.

“Those are the type of games that feel good, that you worked really hard for. That was a good victory right there.”

Guard Jhivvan Jackson led the way with 31 points, including 26 in the second half. He also had six rebounds. Center Jacob Germany scored 16 and Wallace 14. Javion Hamlet had 18 for the Mean Green, but he was held in check with 5 of 14 shooting. As a team, the Mean Green hit only 38 percent, well below their season average of 49.5.

A bumpy ride

Despite an erratic summer caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, UTSA entered the season feeling good about its chances. But ever since games got underway in the last week of November, it’s been a bumpy ride. The team endured a couple of ugly losses at UT Rio Grande Valley and Oklahoma, and then rebounded with two straight victories leading into the C-USA phase of the schedule.

Last week in Houston against the Rice Owls, the Roadrunners gave up a combined 179 points and lost twice.

Returning home, they played better on the defensive end Friday night but watched at the end of the game as the Mean Green pulled out a 77-70 victory. With the decision, UTSA dropped to 0-3 in conference for the first time in the Steve Henson coaching era.

UTSA coach Steve Henson talks to an official after a foul called on the Roadrunners in the final minutes of their 77-69 victory over North Texas on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Steve Henson talks to an official after a foul called on the Roadrunners in the final minutes. Henson went with a four-guard lineup down the stretch. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Moreover, the Roadrunners didn’t have much time to adjust for Game 2 against the defending C-USA champions. They were back on the court early Saturday morning for a shootaround and then reported to the arena a few hours later for a 3 p.m. start. None of it mattered.

Trailing by three at intermission, UTSA outscored North Texas 46-35 in the second half, including 15-6 in the final three minutes, to make something of a statement. So, instead of traveling winless in conference to Louisiana Tech next week, the Roadrunners (5-6, 1-3) they will travel with some confidence.

Making progress

“It’s really big,” Henson said. “In this context, it feels like it’s more than one game, simply because of the nature of it. You go on the road, lose two to Rice. Looking ahead, you see North Texas on the schedule. Then you see LA Tech on the schedule. It was pretty important. You know, LA Tech’s loaded. We understand that.

“It was very, very important (to win today). It reinforced what we’ve been telling them. We think we’re making progress.”

Keaton Wallace. UTSA beat North Texas 77-69 in a Conference USA game on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Keaton Wallace hit two three-point buckets in the Roadrunners’ closing run. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Henson paused to consider the statistics sheet, particularly the second-half numbers. He liked what he saw.

“Second-half field goal percentage for them — 30 percent,” he said. “Second-half field goal percentage for us — 60 percent … That gives us something to hang our hat on.”

Playing small ball

With the teams trading runs for most of the second half, North Texas got into foul trouble, sat down big man Zachary Simmons and went with a smaller lineup. Henson answered by going small himself, using Jhivvan Jackson, Erik Czumbel, Jordan Ivy-Curry and Wallace, along with either Phoenix Ford or Jacob Germany.

The Roadrunners clicked. In the final three minutes, Ivy-Curry found Germany rolling to the rim and lobbed it up high for a dunk. Wallace hit a couple of threes. Jackson knocked down three of four free throws.

Records

UTSA 5-6, 1-3
North Texas 5-5, 1-1

Coming up

UTSA at Louisiana Tech, Friday, 6:30 p.m.
UTSA at Louisiana Tech, Saturday, 6 p.m.


UTSA’s Jhivvan Jackson, the school’s all-time leading scorer, leaps to block a shot by North Texas guard JJ Murray midway through the second half. Jackson played all 40 minutes of games Friday night and Saturday afternoon. He scored 31 points Saturday, finishing his weekend’s work with 57.

Sorting through a few issues before North Texas-UTSA, Part II

Jhivvan Jackson. UTSA lost to North Texas 77-70 in Conference USA action on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Weaving his way through traffic, pulling up for floaters or hitting from deep, Jhivvan Jackson scored 26 points in 40 minutes Friday night. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Good afternoon, all.

I wanted to drop a few opinions here in the lead-up to North Texas-UTSA, Part II. The Mean Green defeated the Roadrunners 77-70 in Game 1 of a two-game, Conference USA series Friday night at the Convocation Center. The two ball clubs meet again today, in the same arena, on UTSA’s home floor. Tipoff is at 3 p.m.

First of all, North Texas looks like a team capable of winning another championship. The Mean Green have everything. A point guard who runs the show. Players who can pass it and catch it. Players who are smart and know what to do when they’re under pressure. Players who defend aggressively. Point guard Javion Hamlet? He’s a handful. Forwards Thomas Bell and Zachary Simmons? I don’t remember them being game-changers last season, but they were Friday night.

Keaton Wallace had 12 points in the second half and 14 for the game for UTSA in Friday's Conference USA loss to North Texas at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Keaton Wallace

Next, I go back and forth between notions that the Roadrunners can be a good team this year, or, alternately, that they lack the right pieces in place to make a serious run in March. When my my thoughts drift to the second part of that notion, I think, what are they missing? Well, maybe they need a creative point guard, a distributor, an assertive force who can take over a game without shooting.

In Jhivvan Jackson, Keaton Wallace and Erik Czumbel, they have three really talented combo guards. Jackson and Wallace are at their best when they can roam the perimeter for catch-and-shoot opportunities. The faster the pace, the better.

Wallace and Czumbel are excellent defensively. But the offense tends to bog down when either runs the point for too long. Jackson is the best distributor and is the most creative of the three on the dribble. But if he brings it up time after time, his effectiveness as one of the nation’s best scorers decreases.

Alternately, I tend to think that the Roadrunners may, in time, work all this out in the coming weeks. Maybe they’ll mesh all their talents together and rip off a series of victories. It has a chance to happen, I think, if a couple of things happen. First, I’d like to see Jackson start at an off-guard position as he did Friday night. Give him the green light to shoot until he gets hot. Same with Wallace.

Both are smart enough players to be able to keep their teammates involved. But the team is built on their talents. Let them go to work. As for Czumbel, he’s starting to get more aggressive when he brings the ball up or when he runs the half court offense. Just give him some time to grow.

Next, they’ll be instantly better on defense when Cedrick Alley, Jr., returns to full speed. Right now, he’s limited with a groin injury. Remember, last week at Rice, Alley enjoyed a great first half before the groin tightened up on him. Get him back in the flow, and he could become a force as a two-way player, an aggressive defender and rebounder, and also one who can also knock down shots.

Today, the Mean Green probably have the edge. Jackson played 40 minutes Friday night. Weaving his way through traffic, finding open spaces, rising up for clever shots in the mid-range, UTSA’s all-time scoring leader was as good as he’s ever been. It may be too much to ask him to do that again in 18 hours. So, others will need to play well. But, as mentioned, North Texas looks like it’s built of championship timber. UTSA is still building.

UTSA trying to find a spark against North Texas

Jhivvan Jackson. UTSA beat Lamar 88-66 on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jhivvan Jackson has averaged 16 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists for the Roadrunners. But he says he is ‘struggling’ with his shot. — Photo by Joe Alexander

More than a few questions linger for the UTSA Roadrunners as they prepare to host the defending Conference USA champion North Texas Mean Green on Friday night.

After losing two games to open C-USA play last week at Rice, can they finally find some consistency to get on a hot streak?

Keaton Wallace scored 12 points as UTSA beat Lamar 88-66 on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Keaton Wallace enters a two-game series against North Texas averaging 13.2 points. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Can they find it with Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace scoring a combined 29.5 points per game, roughly two thirds of their output from last year?

In 2019-20, the dynamic twosome was the highest scoring backcourt in the nation, averaging a combined 45.6. So, yes, it probably would help if they could get closer to that number.

But even if they can regain the magic in a two-game series against North Texas, will it be enough to beat a team that won 20 games last year?

Against UTSA (4-5), Grant McCasland-coached North Texas (4-4) hopes to get off to a fast start in an effort to repeat its 14-4 run through the conference a year ago.

“They won the league last year and they got a lot of those guys back,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “The challenges they presented last year are here again.”

The talented Mean Green play a methodical pace on offense and then, on the other end, they try to force poor possessions by cutting off passing lanes and keeping the ball on one side of the floor.

Anchored by a couple of 6-foot-10 post players, North Texas used the approach to hammer UTSA by 20 points last year in Denton.

“We’re excited to play them,” Jackson said. “I think everybody wants that challenge to play the conference champions. So, we’re getting ready for them. They’re going to come over here, and they’re going to get our best.”

Jackson poured in 37 and Wallace had 24 last year in Denton.

But UTSA is, by design, a different team this season, with more balance to foster more sustained success. Jackson averages 16.3, Wallace 13.2 and center Jacob Germany 10.3.

Forward Eric Parrish (8) and back-up post Luka Barisic (7.3) are also involved in a fast-paced attack.

“I mean, everybody’s making plays,” Jackson said. “Kea, he’s starting to get it going. We got Luka making shots. We got Jacob. He’s scoring at a high percentage.

“We got EZ (Erik) Czumbel. He’s shooting almost 50 percent from the three-point line. We got Juice (Jordan Ivy-Curry), who comes in and gives us a stretch of points and hustle plays.

Added Jackson: “I think I’m doing a great job, as well, just looking for people. I mean, I think everybody is kind of getting the shot that they want. We just got to defend better.”

The Owls beat the Roadrunners 95-86 and 84-69 last week in Houston.

Though defense continues to be the focus for UTSA this year, the Roadrunners likely need to get much better shooting out of their best two players if they want to make a run at the upper level of the C-USA Western Division.

Jackson (43.6 percent from the field, 28.3 from three) and Wallace (40.2 and 31) are much better shooters than those numbers would indicate.

“I’m struggling offensively,” Jackson said. “But I’m getting my teammates open. Getting them some good looks. I’m running the point. So, running a lot of the plays for my teammates.

“I’m good, you know. I’m going to get on my rhythm. I’m not really stressed about that. We just focusing on getting better on defense.”

Cedrick Alley Jr. UTSA wanted to emphasize defense on Friday in a 91-62 victory over Sul Ross State at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

The status of injured Cedrick Alley Jr. is in question. Alley sat out last Saturday at Rice. — Photo by Joe Alexander

A victory would help to smooth out most problems, and Wallace said he’s confident that the Roadrunners can get that done against a team that will be playing its conference opener.

“They got us pretty good last year,” he said. “We scored a lot of points … We couldn’t stop them.

“We going to make some small tweaks to our game on defense, and they’re going to translate to (this) game.”

North Texas, scheduled to tip off C-USA play last week in Alabama at UAB, had its openers postponed because of virus issues with the Blazers.

Records

North Texas 4-4, 0-0
UTSA 4-5, 0-2

Coming up

North Texas at UTSA, Friday, 6 p.m.
North Texas at UTSA, Saturday, 3 p.m.

Steve Henson: UTSA in ‘pretty good shape’ physically

The UTSA Roadrunners experienced a few injury scares in their Dec. 22 home game against the Lamar Cardinals.

Jhivvan Jackson, Cedric Alley and Keaton Wallace all were slowed in the second half of UTSA’s last game before the Christmas break.

But on UTSA coach Steve Henson’s zoom call with reporters Wednesday, he said his team is in “pretty good shape” leading into Friday afternoon’s Conference USA opener against the Rice Owls.

“Today, you see a guy get bumped, knocked down,” Henson said. “Our guys are diving on the floor more, which is good. Our guys are playing hard. They’re getting treatment with (the trainer), but nothing of any real concern at this point.”

UTSA plays at Rice on back-to-back days, on Friday and Saturday.

“Adrian Rodriguez, I think, has got the most significant lingering injury,” Henson said. “He continues to feel good. Every day that goes by, he feels better. Healthier.

“We’ve been pretty fortunate in that regard. All the way through (the season), really. With Covid, with the normal sickness and injuries. We’ve had a lot of guys at practice every day.

“Like anybody, we’ve had a few sprained ankles. A few guys have had to miss a few practices. But, we’ve been pretty healthy.”

Coming up

UTSA at Rice, Friday and Saturday
North Texas at UTSA, Jan. 8 and Jan. 9

Records

UTSA 4-3
Rice 6-2

Jackson, UTSA race past Our Lady of the Lake, 102-70

Jhivvan Jackson scored a team-high 27 points as UTSA beat Our Lady of the Lake 102-70 on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jhivvan Jackson scored 23 points in the first half for UTSA. He had 27 for the game, one off his season-high. – photo by Joe Alexander

The UTSA Roadrunners went off on a 19-1 scoring spree during a six-minute stretch in the first half Sunday and then cruised past the NAIA Our Lady of the Lake University Saints, 102-70, at the Convocation Center.

Bouncing back from a poor shooting effort at Oregon State last week, UTSA guard Jhivvan Jackson scored 27 points on 10 of 15 shooting from the field.

Center Jacob Germany produced 17 points, 12 rebounds and two blocked shots for the Roadrunners, who improved to 3-0 at home this season and 3-3 overall.

Jordan Embry. UTSA beat Our Lady of the Lake 102-70 on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jordan Embry led San Antonio-based Our Lady of the Lake with 14 points and 10 rebounds. — Photo by Joe Alexander

“It felt good, because we thought we was going to win that one at Oregon State,” Jackson said. “I think we played the right way. Just, the shots didn’t go in … We started off a little slow (today) but we picked it up. It felt good. Having a win always feels good.”

Jackson, UTSA’s all-time leading scorer, was held to 10 points on 3 of 18 shooting at Oregon State last Wednesday.

Returning to a home court setting that has been kind to him over the past three-plus seasons, he scored 23 in the first half on 9 of 12 accuracy from the field.

“I feel comfortable in every building, you know,” Jackson said. “I work hard enough to feel comfortable. I was not focused too much on my shot (today). You know, I wanted to get more in the paint. I think that worked out for me.”

Our Lady of the Lake was playing its second game in two days in two different cities.

After losing on the road Saturday afternoon at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 99-72, the Saints showed up at UTSA less than 24 hours later determined to knock off an NCAA program starting its 40th season of basketball.

UTSA had other ideas, dominating in all phases of the game in the first half en route to a 54-30 lead.

The Roadrunners finished with a season-high in points, topping the 97 they scored in the season opener against Texas-Permian Basin.

They also finished with a dominating performance on the boards. UTSA out-rebounded a smaller OLLU team, 65-38, including a massive 31-13 advantage on the offensive glass.

Later, on a Zoom conference with reporters, UTSA players admitted they may have let a major victory slip through their fingers in the 73-61 loss at Oregon State.

“I think they definitely got away with that one,” Germany said. “I think we could have done a lot better in the second half. To go on more runs. To pick it up defensively. It happens. Basketball is a game of runs. They just out-ran us.”

They led 13-0 early in the game at OSU and 34-30 at halftime. The Roadrunners were up 51-46 with 7:22 remaining and then collapsed with poor shooting and defensive lapses down the stretch.

Records

Our Lady of the Lake 1-3
UTSA 3-3

Coming up

Lamar at UTSA, Tuesday, 6 p.m.

Notable

On Dec. 12, OLLU recorded an upset victory against Division I Texas State, winning on the road in San Marcos, 61-58. UTSA coach Steve Henson made sure his team was aware of it. He also said it was important to get off to a good start after what happened in Oregon.

Quotable

Said Henson: “We have a lot of respect for Texas State, and they beat Texas State. So our guys knew we had to come out and play the right way. We’re just trying to keep building. We felt like we did some good things leading up to Oregon State. We opened that game the right way. We did pretty well in the first half. We were going to come back and see if we could do it again today.”

Jacob Germany had 17 points and 12 rebounds as UTSA beat Our Lady of the Lake 102-70 on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA center Jacob Germany produced 17 points and 12 rebounds against Our Lady of the Lake. Germany helped the Roadrunners out-rebound the visitors, 65-38.- photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA hopes to crank up its game against Oregon State

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

Freshman Lachlan Bofinger, from Sydney, Australia, has drawn praise from UTSA coach Steve Henson leading into today’s road game at Oregon State. — Photo by Joe Alexander

On their best days over the past three years, the UTSA Roadrunners have been a nightmare for their opponents, playing at a dizzying pace, shooting three-pointers from all angles and distances, and generally ringing up numbers that leave everyone aghast.

The best of those days came in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, when the Roadrunners seemed particularly hard to handle. Both years, they won 11 and lost 7 in Conference USA. They evolved into a team that opponents didn’t really want to see on a Saturday afternoon in San Antonio.

Last year, the dynamics started to change. Opposing teams started to figure out that UTSA could not win consistently even on nights when guards Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace raced off on mind-boggling scoring binges.

As a result, Roadrunners coach Steve Henson made some changes of his own. In spite of challenges presented by the pandemic, he started out a few months ago determined to mold a team that played tougher defense and made opposing teams think about guarding six or seven players — not just two.

So far, the transition remains as a work in progress. As UTSA (2-2) prepares to tip off today at Oregon State (2-3) of the Pac-12 Conference, the Roadrunners have yet to beat anyone in NCAA Division I with two weeks remaining until the start of the C-USA campaign.

In their two games against D-I opponents, they’ve been outscored by a combined average of 93-65.

“We’re not where we want to be,” Henson told reporters Monday. “We’re not where we need to be if we’re going to win a lot of ball games. We recognize that. That’s OK. You know, if we were playing at a high level, we’d still be trying to get better. (We) told our guys that. It doesn’t really matter where we are at right now. We got to get better today.”

The game against Oregon State is their first in 12 days. They last played on Dec. 3 and 4, when they lost by 39 points at Oklahoma and then returned home on short rest and weary legs to drill Division III Sul Ross State by 29.

“We don’t feel like we’re that far off,” Henson said. “The sample size is making it kind of difficult. We felt like we played poorly at UTRGV. Played poorly at Oklahoma. And in our other two games, might not have been a true indicator of where we need to be. So, the sample size is going to grow.

“Oregon State is a Power Five program. We’ve got to go up there and give ourselves another opportunity to win a ball game against a Power Five. I think our guys are prepared to do that. I think they’re excited. But we’re still trying to figure some things out.”

From the beginning last summer, Henson and his staff insisted that the Roadrunners needed to become a better team defensively to succeed. He said recently that it’s also time for the offense to start clicking.

“You know, if you go down the list right now, we don’t have too many guys that have played anywhere near where they can on the offensive end,” the coach said. “There’s a couple of exceptions. Erik Czumbel is playing very well, shooting at a high level. Lache Bofinger, a freshman, he’s been fantastic.

“But we’ve got a lot of other guys who are capable of doing a lot more offensively. We’ve got to pump them up with confidence. We got to defend harder. We got to play with better effort. We need to rebound more physically. We haven’t played with a lot of confidence on the offensive end.”

In road games at UT-Rio Grande Valley and Oklahoma, the Roadrunners have seemed particularly out of kilter on the offensive end, shooting 37.8 percent from the field and 24 percent from three. Also in those two games, their assist-turnover ratio has been a sub-standard, 23-31, including 6-18 against the Sooners.

Henson said he’s not overly concerned about his point guard play.

“Each guy (Jackson, Czumbel and Wallace) gives us a little bit of something different,” Henson said. “We want to involve Jhivvan in a lot of ball screens in this next ball game. Again, he does as good a job of anybody on the roster of pitching the ball ahead. In the half court, regardless of whether he’s the point or the off, Keaton’s getting good penetration, getting down in the paint. Those three guys are going to be fine.”

With Jackson and Wallace, their shot attempts per game are down from years past as the Roadrunners try to become a more well-rounded offense. The coach said he likes how his two mainstays have tried to play unselfishly, to make sure that others are getting involved.

“They’re struggling a little bit in when to defer and when to take over,” Henson said. “We all know … we cannot be a two-man show. We need somebody else to step up. But there are still times when those guys need to go and be special. You know, go out there and be one of the best backcourts in the country. They’re capable of doing that. They’re capable of taking over stretches. We got to find that balance with them.”

UTSA bounces back with an easy victory over Sul Ross State

UTSA guard Jhivvan Jackson produced 18 points and four assists and did not commit a turnover against the Sul Ross State Lobos. — Photo by Joe Alexander.

Who needs sleep? The UTSA Roadrunners didn’t get much of it in between a road game at Oklahoma on Thursday night and a Friday night home game against the Sul Ross State Lobos.

But, somehow, they got all that they needed, bouncing back from a 39-point loss to the Sooners with a 91-62 home victory over the Division III Lobos.

The Roadrunners started slowly, falling behind by five points in the first few minutes. But once Jhivvan Jackson and the Roadrunners found a rhythm, they rolled to an easy victory.

Highlights included a balanced offensive attack featuring double-figures scoring from Keaton Wallace (19), Jackson (18), Eric Parrish (14) and Erik Czumbel (10), and also a defensive effort that held the Lobos to 29 percent shooting in the second half.

Omar Boone scored 17 and Tristen Licon 16 for the Lobos.

Adrian Rodriguez had four points off the bench including this dunk for UTSA in Friday's victory over Sul Ross State in the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA forward Adrian Rodriguez had four points off the bench, including this dunk. – photo by Joe Alexander

Records

UTSA 2-2
Sul Ross State 1-3

Notable

Scoring whiz Jhivvan Jackson, who played off guard for most of the first three years of his UTSA career, continues to get significant playing time at point guard. He struggled some with it at Oklahoma with turnovers early in the 105-66 loss. But he did a good job against Sul Ross, passing for four assists against no turnovers. He also produced three steals.

Quotable

“I think I like that role. Before I came to UTSA, that’s the position I played. I know that most of the time I’m going to get the attention, so, I’m very unselfish and I want to make the right play. Me being at the point, I can get my teammates the ball and they can make plays, for sure.” — Jhivvan Jackson, on playing the point.

Keaton Wallace had a team-high 19 points for UTSA in Friday's victory over Sul Ross State in the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Keaton Wallace had a team-high 19 points for UTSA in Friday’s victory over Sul Ross State. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Coming up

UTSA at Oregon State, Dec. 16.

Coach’s corner

UTSA’s Steve Henson said his players encouraged him to put on a full court press early in the second half.

“They were definitely hungry to do that, in that case,” Henson said. “We felt a little momentum building. Our players came into that timeout wanting to put on the full court press. There’s a couple of other possessions where they had a side out of bounds, and we got a bunch of guys slapping the floor. I think Phoenix (Ford) helped us in that regard. Cedric (Alley) got going with that.

“We’ve been challenging Cedric to become a big part of that. He needs to join Keaton and Czumbel and be those rocks that we have on the defensive end.”

Henson said after the OU game that he wanted to see more intensity and more toughness from his players, and he said he liked what he saw in that regard against Sul Ross.

“We didn’t fix everything in 24 hours,” he said. “This was not the kind of game where we’re going to be able to draw a ton of conclusions. That’s kind of been the challenge with our opponents and our schedule. Oklahoma obviously is very talented.

“Hopefully they’re a really, really good team. We don’t know. (But) the response (tonight) was what we wanted. Have we solved our issues? Absolutely not. But, we’re not going to solve them in 24 hours. Were not going to solve them in a week. The challenge right now is to make progress. Recognize who we are … and take steps.”

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.”

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UTSA guard Jhivvan Jackson photo gallery

UTSA's Jhivvan Jackson broke the Roadrunners' all-time season and career scoring records during his junior year. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA’s Jhivvan Jackson broke the Roadrunners’ all-time season and career scoring records during his junior year.

UTSA’s Jhivvan Jackson was named to the Conference USA men’s basketball player all-conference first team on Monday.

The junior from Puerto Rico led the conference in scoring and finished the regular season No. 2 in the NCAA with 27.2 points per game.

UTSA’s Jackson, Wallace honored on all conference squad

Conference USA released its all-conference teams Monday. Predictably, both Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace of UTSA were honored. Jackson made first team and Wallace was on the second team.

The Roadrunners open the C-USA tournament on Wednesday night in Frisco. UTSA, the 10th seed in a 12-team event, will tip off against the No. 7 UAB Blazers at 8:30 p.m. The Roadrunners and Blazers split a pair of games in San Antonio this season.