UTEP’s second-half shooting stops UTSA’s upset bid

Down by 11 at halftime and struggling on offense, the UTEP Miners heated up with seven 3-pointers after intermission and finally subdued the UTSA Roadrunners, 69-64, on Thursday night at the Haskins Center in El Paso.

UTEP, paced in the second half by long-distance shooting from Jorell Saterfield, handed UTSA its fifth straight loss and kept the Roadrunners winless in Conference USA. The Miners have won two in a row and three of their last four.

Dogged by injuries and Covid-19 issues, the Roadrunners played only seven players — six of them on scholarship, plus walk-on forward Isaiah Addo-Ankrah. Division I basketball programs are allowed up to 13 scholarships.

Notable

The Roadrunners, sparked by Addo-Ankrah’s nine points off the bench in 17 minutes, stayed in the game through much of the second half until the Miners took over.

Quotable

“We’re not going to let our guys off the hook,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said on the team’s radio broadcast. “We had enough guys to play, and we had enough guys to win. We just didn’t make enough plays down the stretch. Need to be a little tougher.

“Yeah, there was some fatigue. Some guys had never played big minutes (in college). Especially the young guys who had never done it … Isaiah, for him to go in there in that setting and do what he did, was pretty impressive.”

Germany’s big night

Junior center Jacob Germany led the Roadrunners with 21 points and 10 rebounds. He hit 9 of 18 from the field, including some long jump hooks. Senior guard Darius McNeill added 19 points, 5 rebounds and an assist. Both McNeill and guard Erik Czumbel played all 40 minutes.

Phoenix Ford had 11 points off the bench for the Roadrunners, who shot 63 percent from the field in the first half but only 28 percent after intermission.

For the Miners, Souley Boum scored 22, Saterfield had 18 and Jamal Bieniemy 11 points. Saterfield hit six of the Miners’ 10 three-point shots. Bieniemy also totaled 8 rebounds and 4 assists.

First half

Playing without Jordan Ivy-Curry for the third straight game, the Roadrunners shot 63 percent from the field and rolled to an improbable 38-27 lead before intermission. UTSA hit its first six shots for a 12-3 lead to set the tone.

The Roadrunners also finished strong by hitting its last three before the half. Germany, a 6-foot-11 lefthander, led the way with 14 points on 7 of 8 shooting. McNeill started and scored 10.

On the defensive end, UTSA was just as effective, holding UTEP to 33 percent (10 of 30 afield), with Boum scoring 13 to keep his team in the game.

The Roadrunners started with a lineup that included McNeill and Erik Czumbel at the guards, Lamin Sabally and Lachlan Bofinger at forwards and Germany in the post.

Notable

The UTSA men’s basketball program announced that the following players would not be available for Thursday night’s road game against the UTEP Miners: Aleu Aleu is out with a season-ending injury. Also, Josh Farmer, Jordan Ivy-Curry and Christian Tucker are all in COVID protocols.

Within the past few weeks, the Roadrunners have also lost guard Dhieu Deing, who left the team to turn professional, and power forward Cedrick Alley, Jr., who is academically ineligible. Both are expected to be lost for the season. Deing was the team’s leading scorer and Alley was the leading rebounder.

Records

UTSA 7-12, 0-6
UTEP 10-8, 3-3

Coming up

Sunday — UTEP at UTSA, 3 p.m.
Jan. 27 — FIU at UTSA, 7 p.m.
Jan. 29 — FAU at UTSA, 1 p.m.
Feb. 3 — UTSA at Rice, 7 p.m.
Feb. 5 — UTSA at North Texas, 5 p.m.
Feb. 7 — UTSA at Middle Tennessee, TBD

Breaking down the ABC’s of Josh Farmer’s potential

Josh Farmer, a 6-foot-9 freshman forward from Houston Sharpstown, at the first day of UTSA men's basketball practice. - photo by Joe Alexander

Josh Farmer, a 6-foot-9 freshman, has had a solid training camp leading into tonight’s season opener against Trinity University. – Photo by Joe Alexander

As UTSA preseason basketball practices played out over the past month, I had to make sure that I talked to freshman Josh Farmer before it was all over.

The lanky forward caught my eye early with:

A) A resolve to mix it up in the paint with more physical players;

B) An advanced ability to create both his own shot and shots for others, and;

C) A certain confidence that he belongs in the playing rotation even as a young man who is only a few months out of high school.

Standing 6-feet-9 and weighing 197 pounds, it seems that all he needs is a few years to get stronger, and the Roadrunners could really have something special.

Farmer said recently that he has already started on a rigorous weight-training regimen.

“I’ve been in the weight room,” he said in an interview last Friday. “I (was) in the weight room four times this week. Four times last week. And I’ve been eating, and drinking water. That’s it. My metabolism is fast. I might not think I’m eating a lot, but I am.”

With UTSA opening tonight against Division III Trinity and playing again Friday on the road at Division I power Oklahoma, the former standout from Houston Sharpstown is expected to play off the bench for the Roadrunners.

Just how much, is not certain. What is certain is that he has caught the attention of the UTSA coaching staff.

“It’s going to be fun watching him,” sixth-year coach Steve Henson said. “There’s not a question of if (he can play). I mean, he’s so talented, and he’s very coachable. Got a great basketball IQ.

“You tell him something once and he’s got it. Great attitude. He’s going to be a big contributor.”

Henson said last week that coaches are working to accelerate his development.

“We need to speed up that process,” Henson said. “We’ve talked about that with our coaches, with some of our players, as well. They know it. They can see it. Anybody walks in the gym, whether you know anything about basketball or not, you can see his talent.

“We just got to speed that process up and see how he can impact games. You know, right now, he’s behind some other guys. But he’s also got a ton of upside.”

Farmer’s practice battles with burly senior Cedric Alley Jr. have been entertaining. On one end of the floor, Alley will go into his bump-and-grind routine, and then forcefully will spin inside.

On the other end, Farmer isn’t shy about using his dribble handle to get around traffic in the paint. Then, with his length, he creates just enough space to pass. Or, at times, enough space to shoot a bank shot.

A brazen move, for a freshman. Like Keaton Wallace or Jhivvan Jackson four years ago, Farmer is not shy about anything that happens between the lines on a basketball court.

Almost matter of factly, he said he expected to play as a freshman when he arrived on campus. He said he had a feeling he would based on his conversations with the coaches and with the trust he had in his ability to rebound and run the floor.

Nevertheless, he still had to prove himself, and he did.

“Yes sir,” he said.

So, how does Josh Farmer grade himself on his performance in camp?

“It kind of took me time to get used to the pace of the game,” he said. “When I got used to it, it kind of converted to me attacking (on offense) and on defense being able to see everybody … It just takes time to adapt to everything.

“But I feel good about it, overall.”

As UTSA’s McNeill settles in at point guard, Farmer pushes for a prominent role

Darius McNeill is one of the new players on the UTSA men's basketball roster. He is a 6-foot-3 senior transfer guard. - photo by Joe Alexander

Senior transfer Darius McNeill enjoyed a solid practice Thursday afternoon at the UTSA Convocation Center. – File photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Steve Henson says that he’s getting “pretty close’ to identifying his playing rotation leading into next week’s season opener.

While the coach is not naming any names, it has become evident to anyone watching practices that point guard duties and floor leadership responsibilities will fall to senior transfer Darius McNeill.

McNeill, who has played at the University of California and at SMU, looked sharp in running the show in practice on Thursday afternoon.

When he wasn’t finding cutters to the basket with crisp bounce passes, he was pulling up to knock down shots, showing that he’s capable of hitting from both inside and outside the 3-point arc.

“He’s getting more comfortable,” Henson said. “I think he’ll continue to do that. Just trying to get him to free up his mind a little more. He’s very, very talented.

“He’s thinking too much right now. Part of it is, everything’s new. New terminology. New schemes.”

Even though the team is sort of in search mode right now with lineups and rotations, Henson agreed that McNeill is starting to find a rhythm.

“(Today) was one of his better days,” he said. “I just thing every day he’s with these guys and around the terminology and the coaches, I think he’ll continue to get more comfortable. That’s very important to him. Trying to free his mind up. (Trying to) use his talent right now.”

With the Roadrunners set to play eight games in November, an intriguing question centers on how much of an impact that talented, 6-9 freshman forward Josh Farmer can make right away.

“It’s going to be fun watching him,” Henson said. “There’s not a question of if (he can play). I mean, he’s so talented, and he’s very coachable. Got a great basketball IQ.

“You tell him something once and he’s got it. Great attitude. He’s going to be a big contributor.”

“We need to speed up that process. We’ve talked about that with our coaches, with some of our players, as well. They know it. They can see it. Anybody walks in the gym whether you know anything about basketball or not, you can see his talent.

“We just got to speed that process up and see how he can impact games. You know, right now, he’s behind some other guys. But he’s also got a ton of upside.”

Injury slows Germany

Slowed by a soreness in his right foot, center Jacob Germany sat out most of Thursday’s practice as the UTSA Roadrunners continued preparation for their season opener, now less than a week away.

The adversity involving one of the team’s top offensive weapons comes at an awkward time with the Roadrunners trying to fine-tune for their season opener next Tuesday night at home against cross-town neighbor Trinity University.

Henson said Germany suffered the injury in practice on Wednesday.

“I was pleasantly surprised when I walked out here (today) and saw he wasn’t in a boot,” Henson said. “He went down really hard. Twisted it badly. He was in a ton of pain yesterday. Sure thought he’d be in a lot worse shape than he is today.

“That was pretty encouraging when I walked out and saw him walking around a little bit.”

Germany participated in a shooting drill and then didn’t do much else the rest of the afternoon.

“Nothing anywhere near game speed but the fact that he wasn’t sitting around in a boot was good news,” the coach said.

‘Defensive intensity’ evident in early UTSA drills

Steve Henson. UTSA beat UTEP 86-70 on Saturday at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Coach Steve Henson is preparing to open his sixth season as men’s basketball coach at UTSA. – Photo by Joe Alexander

For fans of the UTSA Roadrunners, it may take awhile to adjust, in terms of not seeing 2,000-point scorers Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace on the floor this fall.

It will be strange. But as far as sixth-year coach Steve Henson is concerned, he more or less has already turned the page mentally.

Henson said Friday that he very much likes the energy of his newest group of Roadrunners.

“You walk in right away and you notice the competitiveness,” he said. “The group’s really getting after it … What really jumps out is the defensive intensity (and) the length.”

Last season, as Jackson and Wallace played their fourth and final seasons together, UTSA finished 15-11 overall and 9-7 in Conference USA.

After Jackson hurt his shoulder in the opener of the C-USA tournament, the Roadrunners were eliminated by Western Kentucky in the quarterfinals.

Since then, Henson and his staff have been busy making plans for the new group of players and the new season. Conditioning drills have been ongoing since the start of the fall semester.

“We’ve got more 6-6, 6-7 guys than we’ve ever had before,” Henson said. “So the length, in the passing lanes — some of those guys are really getting after it, getting pretty good ball pressure. (We’re) just super competitive in the defensive segments.”

UTSA had a banner day in the offseason on April 6. On that day, the Roadrunners announced the signing of guard Darius McNeill and forward Josh Farmer.

Farmer is a 6-9 freshman from Houston Sharpstown, the 10th-rated player in the state. McNeill is a 6-3 senior transfer who has played two seasons at the University of California in the Pac-12 and one at SMU in the American Athletic Conference.

“With Darius, we were thrilled when we were able to get him to transfer over,” Henson said. “Like we said (in our news release), he had two really good years out at Cal. He transferred back closer to home, went to SMU. Sat out a year and then played one year at SMU. So, he’s had a lot of success.”

UTSA on Friday learned that the NCAA had granted McNeill a waiver, allowing him to play immediately. Henson said he wants McNeill to set the tone for the Roadrunners defensively.

“If you’re looking for someone to compare him to physically, Keaton (Wallace) would be a good one,” the coach said. “Really, really strong. Similar size. Lefty. But really, really can get after the ball.

“He guards the ball, heats it up. Applies pressure. Unbelievably quick on the turf, in the stuff you can measure. On the court, it’s just obvious.

“We’re thrilled with what he can do setting the tone for our defense. Always in the gym. Absolutely living in the gym right now. Made a lot of threes at Cal. It’s proven he can do that. We haven’t done much with any pace at this point.

“But I think he’ll be pretty good in the open court, as well.”

Henson acknowledged that it was a “big deal” for the Roadrunners to land a player of his stature.

“He’s got a lot of experience and he’s extremely tough,” Henson said. “That was a really, really good get for us.”