Wallace joins Jackson in a 2K tandem as UTSA rolls past UAB

UTSA beat UAB 96-79 in Conference USA on the Roadrunners' senior day for Jhivvan Jackson, Keaton Wallace and Phoenix Ford on Feb. 27, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Keaton Wallace (left) joined Jhivvan Jackson in the 2,000-career point club on ‘Senior Day’ Saturday, when the Roadrunners rebounded from an ugly loss on Friday night to blow out the UAB Blazers. – photo by Joe Alexander

Leave it to UTSA senior guards Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace. Only those two could light up a drafty, old gymnasium and turn an overcast Saturday afternoon into one for the memory banks.

First, Wallace eclipsed the 2,000-point mark for his career mid-way through the second half against the UAB Blazers.

A few minutes later, Jackson unleashed a flurry of buckets to climb past 2,500 points. In the end, the Roadrunners played perhaps their best game of the season in claiming a convincing 96-79 ‘Senior Day’ victory over a 19-win team.

Keaton Wallace. UTSA beat UAB 96-79 in Conference USA on the Roadrunners' senior day for Jhivvan Jackson, Keaton Wallace and Phoenix Ford on Feb. 27, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Keaton Wallace produced 22 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in what may have been his last home game. — Photo by Joe Alexander

If it was indeed the last time for Jackson and Wallace to grace the court at the UTSA Convocation Center, then it was done with appropriate style and flair, complete with a wave from the two of them to a Covid-19 restricted crowd of 394 as they walked off to the dressing room.

As fans cheered to hail UTSA’s newly-minted 2K tandem, UTSA coach Steve Henson offered his thanks, as well.

“We all know we got a lot of basketball left,” Henson said. “They’re going to have some emotional moments with their families right now. I was thanking them, and they were thanking me. Just appreciate everything they’ve done for this program.”

Jackson led the rout with 32 points, and Wallace added 22. As a team, the Roadrunners showed impressive resilience in bouncing back from a bad loss Friday to salvage a split in their two-game series with the Blazers.

Jhivvan Jackson. UTSA beat UAB 96-79 in Conference USA on the Roadrunners' senior day for Jhivvan Jackson, Keaton Wallace and Phoenix Ford on Feb. 27, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jhivvan Jackson, held to 12 points in Friday’s loss to the Blazers, bounced back to score 32 on Saturday. — Photo by Joe Alexander.

“Pretty fitting for them to finish it off this way in the Convo (with) monster nights from both of them,” Henson said. “You know, they came in here four years ago and started making baskets and they just kept it going … There were a lot of nights when one or the other was clicking … But to have both of them have monster nights on Senior Day is very, very special.

“They have changed the perception, I think, of our program. You know, they allowed us to play fast, the way we said we were going to play. They’ve allowed us to shoot a lot of threes. They’ve allowed us to do a lot of things we said we were going to do when we recruited them four years ago. They’ve been great ambassadors.

“They’ve handled their business. They’ve both done a great job in the classroom. They’re great Roadrunners.”

Turning the tables

UTSA played one of its best stretches of the season against a quality opponent in the first half, shooting 50 percent from the field and rolling to a 42-33 intermission lead.

Spacing the floor and taking care of the ball, the Roadrunners hit 17 of 34 shots, including 5 of 9 from three. In one span of a little more than seven minutes, UTSA produced a 16-0 streak against the Blazers, the top defensive team in Conference USA.

All of a sudden, an eight-point deficit for UTSA turned into a 23-15 lead.

The Blazers never got closer than five the rest of the way. With the Roadrunners shooting 65.6 percent in the second half, they pushed the lead to as many as 22, quite the turnaround from Friday night, when the Blazers claimed a 64-57 victory on the same floor.

Records

UAB 19-6, 11-5
UTSA 13-10, 9-7

Coming up

The Roadrunners likely will not make up two games against Charlotte that were scratched last week because of the winter storm. But they could possibly schedule a non-conference game next week. Many C-USA teams will play make-ups next week for games that were lost to Covid-19 postponements. The C-USA is expected to announce next weekend the bracket for the tournament. All 14 teams — seven in each division — will be invited. The tournament is March 9-13 at Frisco.

For the record

When the Roadrunners came out in the second half, they unleashed a series of defensive plays that sparked a surge. First, the 6-foot Jackson soared high in an attempt to block a dunk attempt. Though he was called for a foul, the play clearly sent a message. On UAB’s next possession, 6-11 UTSA center Jacob Germany rejected UAB’s 7-foot Trey Jemison. Next time down, UAB’s Quan Jackson was rejected by UTSA forward Cedrick Alley, Jr.

It all translated into a rush of momentum for the Roadrunners. With 12:08 remaining, Wallace hit a three that made him the 615th player in Division I basketball history to reach 2,000 points. Later, as Jackson connected on a long ball with 10:06 left, he simultaneously hit the 2,500 mark and moved into No. 1 in C-USA history in three-point makes. When the day was done, Jackson had totaled 2,505 points and Wallace 2,007.

Having the last word

Jackson finished his day’s work by hitting 13 of 21 from the field and six of 10 from three. He described a flood of emotions when he and Wallace came off the floor for the last time with 2:26 remaining.

“You know, I kind of wanted to finish the game out, just because they got us yesterday, and, beating us every single year, in the Conference USA,” he said. “But, man, I was grateful. I kind of took this game as just a regular game. I was kind of pissed about yesterday. We played the right way yesterday. We (just) had a little too many turnovers. If we make even half our shots, we win.

“So, our mentality today was just getting no turnovers. You know, we only got nine in the whole game (today) … And we just got stops. That’s the reason we won today. We were stopping them. We held (down) their best player (Tavin Lovan, to seven points). That just helped us. We were just the tougher team today.”

Wallace punctuated his 22 points with seven rebounds and seven assists. He hit 8 of 13 from the floor and 3 of 4 from distance. “It’s just a blessing to be able to make history at our school,” he said. “Just for two guys to score the ball like we do, in the same backcourt, is big time. It speaks volumes. I just appreciate all the support. All the love from the fans. The staff. My teammates. And my family. You know, Birds up.”

Notable

UTSA freshman guard Jordan Ivy-Curry scored 13 points on three 3-pointers. He also grabbed three rebounds and dished out two assists over 23 minutes. Junior Eric Parrish had 10 points and three rebounds in 22 minutes. Sophomore center Jacob Germany had a team-leading eight rebounds to go along with eight points.

Jalen Benjamin scored 21 points to lead the Blazers. Tyreek Scott-Grayson had 13 points, followed by Trey Jemison with 11 and Michael Ertel 10. Scott-Grayson and Tavin Lovan, both guards, have been key players on UAB teams that were 5-3 against UTSA over the past four seasons before Saturday. The Blazers have knocked the Roadrunners out of the C-USA tournament each of the past two seasons.

Blazers look for series sweep on UTSA’s ‘Senior Day’

On ‘Senior Day,’ Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace will face an all-too-familiar foe in what might be their last home game for the UTSA Roadrunners.

They’ll take on the UAB Blazers at 3 p.m. at the Convocation Center.

Playing on the Roadrunners’ home court, the Blazers won 64-57 Friday night in the opener of a two-game Conference USA series to close the regular season.

With the victory, the Blazers improved to 5-3 in the past four seasons over the Jackson and Wallace-led Roadrunners.

When Jackson and Wallace were freshmen, in 2017-18, the Roadrunners went on the road to Birmingham, Ala., and scored an 82-70 victory over the Blazers. Since then, the Blazers for the most part have held the upper hand.

UAB produced a 2-1 record in head-to-head matchups in both 2018-19 and 2019-20, and in both seasons, the Blazers eliminated UTSA from the C-USA tournament.

The Blazers have been tough on Jackson, in particular, in holding him to less than 33 percent shooting from the field over the teams’ last two meetings.

Last season in Frisco, UAB won 74-69 while limiting Jackson to 12 points on 4 of 17 shooting in the first round of the tournament. On Friday night in San Antonio, the Blazers held Jackson to 12 points again on 5 of 13 shooting.

Jackson had been playing and shooting the ball well leading into Friday night’s series opener. During an eight-game stretch in which the Roadrunners won seven, he hit 60 of 124 from the floor for 48.3 percent.

Coming up

Next week, it is possible that UTSA could add a game or two to its schedule. Otherwise, their next game will come March 9-13 in Frisco, at the C-USA tournament. The winner of the conference event advances to the NCAA tournament. UTSA hasn’t played in the NCAA tournament since 2011.

Records

UAB 19-5, 11-4
UTSA 12-10, 8-7

Leading the way

Jackson has tallied 2,473 points in 111 games. Wallace has produced 1,985 points in 121 games. They are Nos. 1-2 on the UTSA all-time scoring list. Jackson ranks 83rd on the all-time Division I list and No. 2 in C-USA. Wallace is tied for seventh in C-USA.

Wallace’s coach in high school recalls a fierce work ethic

Keaton Wallace. UTSA beat Florida Atlantic 86-75 at the Convocation Center on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021, in the second game of a Conference USA men's college basketball back-to-back. - photo by Joe Alexander

Keaton Wallace has emerged as the No. 2 all-time scorer at UTSA leading into perhaps his last two home games this weekend. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Riding on a bus down a West Texas highway earlier this week, Abilene High School basketball coach Justin Reese and his team were en route to a playoff game in Fort Stockton against El Paso Eastwood.

As anyone who has traveled through that part of the state knows, Reese had some time on his hands to do some things, such as return a phone call.

There was a voice message left on his office phone back in Abilene, an inquiry from a reporter about one of his former players, Keaton Wallace. So Reese dialed the number and started to field a few questions.

At an earlier stage of his career, when he coached the Richardson High School Eagles, Reese had the good fortune to watch Wallace grow as a player, from middle school to high school varsity and, ultimately, to college prospect.

The experience left an impression on the coach, who remembers the days fondly. Asked to recount the best memories, Reese started to unwind a few of them, stories that evolved into a 20-minute call.

“Well I have a lot of great memories of Keaton and his whole family,” the coach said. “You know, Keaton is one of the really special kids that I’ve ever coached. He comes from a great family. Mike and Kim (Keaton’s father and mother) are great people. And his younger brother, Cason, I just think the world of them.”

Today, the prospect Reese coached as a high school senior in 2016-17 has fully realized his potential as a college athlete. Wallace, a UTSA senior, is preparing for what likely are his last two home games with the Roadrunners.

With UTSA set to play a pair of Conference USA contests against the UAB Blazers, one on Friday night and the finale on Saturday afternoon, the Roadrunners clearly have benefited in every way from Wallace’s presence.

He has scored more points (1,964) than any other player in the program’s 40-year history except for Jhivvan Jackson (2,461). With Jackson and Wallace in the same backcourt for the past four years, UTSA emerged as one of the most entertaining offensive shows in the C-USA.

UTSA coaches admit that the two have surpassed even their own expectations. But it was interesting to hear Reese say in a telephone interview that he was not surprised at Wallace’s progression. From his experience, it’s like he knows now that it’s better never to underestimate the one-time “scrawny” middle schooler.

“I can remember my first memory of Keaton,” Reese said. “You see him now and he’s this tall, lanky, 6-3, athletic shooter. But I remember Keaton in middle school. At the feeder middle school as a little scrawny 5-2, 110-pound eighth grader who was just tiny but could handle it. Could just shoot it and had great vision. And could just do anything you wanted with the basketball.

“He was 5-1, 5-2, 5-4 going into eighth and ninth grade but he was starting to get the long arms. You could see that if he ever grew, he was going to be really, really good,” Reese said. “For his whole life, he just had great skills. Great ball handling skills. And shooting. He had great vision. You know, I can remember, as a junior, he really took the next step for us in high school.

“He kind of hit his growth spurt and got his confidence.”

Looking back, Reese said he was fortunate to have both Wallace and Brandon Averette (now at BYU) in 2015-16. Averette was a senior that year, and Wallace was a fast-rising prospect as a junior.

“We really had two of the best guards in the state,” he said.

Once Averette graduated, Wallace took charge. It was as if Wallace would not be denied.

“He’d go through a two-hour practice with us and then he’d go home and get some strength training in,” Reese said. “Then he’d go to the gym with his cousin, Terrel Harris, and then go do workouts for an hour or an hour and a half. Just, work on shooting and ball handling. He would do that every day.

“So, that summer before his senior year, I would watch him every day in open gym, in the skill workouts, and I knew. Somebody was about to get a steal in college. Sure enough, he got some offers.”

One moment in Wallace’s senior year at Richardson stands out for Reese. In January of 2017, Richardson hosted what Reese remembered as a No. 1-ranked and undefeated Dallas Skyline team, with Kansas-bound guard Marcus Garrett. The game went to overtime and Richardson emerged with an overtime victory. With Garrett guarding him, Wallace scored 35.

“We just put the ball in Keaton’s hands all game, and we got out of the way, and we just let him make plays for us,” Reese said. “Over and over and over. That was Skyline’s only loss all season until they lost at the state tournament in San Antonio. That was a special, special memory for Keaton and our program. It just shows you what a competitor he was.”

A few months later, Wallace signed with the Roadrunners. Looking back, Reese had a feeling that Wallace would turn into a good college ball player. But, 2,000 points good?

“UTSA was a great fit for him,” Reese said. “But it’s all about Keaton and his work ethic. So, anything he does, anything he’s done at UTSA, doesn’t surprise me a bit.”

Determined to keep winning, UTSA prepares for UAB

Steve Henson. UTSA beat Florida Atlantic 86-75 at the Convocation Center on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021, in the second game of a Conference USA men's college basketball back-to-back. - photo by Joe Alexander

Steve Henson’s UTSA Roadrunners have won four straight and seven of their last eight going into a weekend home series against the UAB Blazers. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Coach Steve Henson said Wednesday afternoon in a zoom call with reporters that the UTSA Roadrunners’ two Conference USA home games against the UAB Blazers this weekend likely would be the team’s last games in the regular season.

They’re set for Friday night and Saturday afternoon at the Convocation Center.

In addition, Henson said he expects the games also will be the last two at home in the remarkable careers of Roadrunners seniors Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace, the leading scorers in the program’s 40-year history.

Both Jackson and Wallace told reporters they have not made a decision on whether they might take advantage of an extra year of eligibility. Before the season, all Division I basketball players were given an extra year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Even so, Henson said he plans on having “Senior Day” festivities on Saturday for Jackson, Wallace and also for forward Phoenix Ford. The coach was asked how “Senior Day” might be different with the lingering possibility that one or both of his high-scoring guards could return.

“I think we’ll go through it as if it’s their last game and worry about it after that,” Henson said. “The guys, right now, they’re focused on continuing to play (into the tournament). We started talking about this weeks ago — the opportunity to start winning games, to play better basketball.

“At one point, we knew four of our final six were going to be at home. That we could go into the conference tournament with some momentum. So, they liked that.

“What we did yesterday in practice was really, really encouraging. Just from different guys making plays. The ball moving. I think our guys are pretty locked in right now. There’s always that emotional piece on Senior Night, right before the game starts. (But) our guys are still planning on playing basketball for awhile.”

UTSA hasn’t played since Feb. 13. On that day, the Roadrunners completed a two-game, home sweep of the Florida Atlantic Owls, pushing their winning streak to four. A day later, a few players came in to shoot at the Convocation Center, but with cold and inclement weather on the way, the campus was scheduled to close at 5 p.m.

As it turned out, a week of the worst winter weather in South Texas in years descended from cold, gray skies, leading to power outages all over the city.
The UTSA basketball team was not spared.

Some players — notably, roommates Wallace and Jackson — had power go out in their apartments. From a basketball standpoint, the inclement weather kept the Roadrunners off the practice floor through Thursday. Ultimately, the team’s two road games, set for Friday and Saturday at Charlotte, N.C., were scrapped.

It was a blow to the fast-improving Roadrunners, who have won seven of their last eight conference games.

“We wanted to go down there and play,” Henson said. “We just couldn’t make it happen.”

Coming up

UAB at UTSA, Friday, 6 p.m.
UAB at UTSA, Saturday, 3 p.m.
Conference USA tournament, at Frisco, March 10-13

Records

UAB 18-5, 10-4
UTSA 12-9, 8-6

Notes

Before the season, C-USA officials left open the first week of March — next week — for any make-up games. Even so, the two games between UTSA and Charlotte likely will not be played, Henson said, because Charlotte’s end-of-week schedule is full. The 49ers are scheduled to play Covid-related makeups on the road at Marshall on March 5 and 6.

“The chances of us playing Charlotte are slim and none,” said Henson, who added that the likely cancellations have created a “pretty weird situation for us” leading into the C-USA tournament.

“We’ll go 24 days with only two games — these UAB games — in that window there, which is less than ideal,” Henson said. “So we’re still trying to find something for next week. (We’ll) see if we can schedule a game or two. I’d really not prefer to go such a long span with only two games in there. But at this point, as of right now, the UAB games will be our last regular-season games.”

Senior Day emotions

Jackson has scored 2,461 points and Wallace 1,964. Jackson has twice been first-team all-C-USA. Wallace, in turn, has been second-team all-C-USA twice. The Roadrunners have built their program around them, which means that Saturday likely will be an emotional day.

“I’ll probably be as emotional as anybody, with the exception of some of the family members,” Henson said. “Keaton’ll probably be pretty stone-faced. That’s kind of his M.O., anyway. Jhivvan will be emotional, I think.

“Once the ball gets tipped, I think they’ll play great. It’s unfortunate that we can’t have an arena full of fans come and honor them in that regard. We’re going to honor Phoenix, as well. Those guys have done a great job. Great ambassadors for our program.”

With Covid restrictions, attendance will be limited.

“Keaton and Jhivvan helped us turn this thing around,” the coach said. “Got the attention of everyone around the country, everyone around the league. Really proud of them. It’s amazing the accomplishments they’ve had. Wish we could celebrate it in more grand style. But we’ll do the best we can with Covid.”

Henson is approaching the games against the Blazers as if they’re as if they’re the last ones at home for his two stars.

“My anticipation is that they have accomplished so much, I anticipate they’re ready to move on,” the coach said. “They love it here, and we’re glad they do, and we love having them here, but they both have sights set on winning a bunch more games here and then going and playing professionally. We haven’t spent a lot of time on the details with the scholarship numbers, or anything like that.”

UTSA’s Keaton Wallace takes pride in career achievement

Keaton Wallace. UTSA beat UTEP 86-79 in a Conference USA game on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021 at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Senior guard Keaton Wallace will lead the UTSA Roadrunners into a weekend home series against the FAU Owls. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Senior guard Keaton Wallace says he was oblivious to the news last weekend that he had passed a former UTSA great and moved into second place on the school’s all-time scoring list.

“It’s really crazy, because I never knew until I came in on Monday … ” Wallace said. “They told me that I was second. I was shocked. I didn’t even know.”

For the record, Jhivvan Jackson leads the UTSA list with 2,411 points, followed by Wallace, Jackson’s teammate of the past four years, with 1,944, and Devin Brown with 1,922.

Brown, a shooting guard, amassed his point totals from 1998-2002 and went on to play in the NBA. He held the record for 18 seasons until Jackson broke it late last year.

Wallace eclipsed Brown’s mark last Friday when he scored a season-high 33 points in an 87-80 victory at Florida International. The former prep standout at Richardson added to his career total with 16 in a 90-47 victory at FIU on Saturday.

“You know, things like that don’t happen very often,” Wallace said. “Devin Brown, he’s a great player. I seen some of his tape. He could score. Just for two guys, me and Jhivvan, to play on the same team at the same time and do things like that, that’s big time. That speaks volumes. I’m going to keep working. Try to keep getting better.”

As Wallace works on his own game, the Roadrunners are also improving as a team. They have won five of their last six leading into a two-game, Conference USA home series this week against Florida Atlantic. The games are set for Friday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Convocation Center.

If Wallace has learned anything in four years at UTSA, he knows it’s nice to start playing well in February, to lay the groundwork for a trip to the C-USA tournament in March.

“We’re feeling good about finishing strong in the conference,” Wallace. “I think we have six more games. Those six games can be a great momentum change for us going into the conference tournament. We just have to handle our business and do what we need to do. Come in with a positive mindset going into the conference tournament.”

UTSA is emphasizing perimeter defense against the Owls.

“I think we need to guard the three a little bit better,” he said. “I know they have a couple of three-point shooters, things like that. If the defense is all on the same page and we execute our schemes, make sure we don’t give up any offensive rebounds or any second-chance points, we’ll have a better chance at winning the game.”

Having Wallace at peak form also will help. Last weekend, with UTSA facing games critical to its long-term aspirations, the 6-foot-3 left-hander hit 12 of 19 from the field on Friday and 6 of 13 on Saturday.

Coming up

FAU at UTSA, Friday at 6 p.m.
FAU at UTSA, Saturday at 3 p.m.

Records

FAU 8-7, 3-3
UTSA 10-9, 6-6

Wallace moves into No. 2 on UTSA’s all-time scoring list

Keaton Wallace. UTSA beat Southern Miss 78-72 in Conference USA action at the Convocation Center on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. - photo by Joe Alexander

Keaton Wallace is now the No. 2 all-time scorer in UTSA school history. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Keaton Wallace has moved into second on the UTSA all-time scoring list. Jhivvan Jackson leads with 2,389 points, followed by Wallace with 1,928.

Former San Antonio schoolboy Devin Brown, who played for the Roadrunners from 1998-2002, scored 1,922.

Wallace moved up with a 33-point performance Friday night at Florida International. Jackson, the leading scorer among active NCAA Division I players, scored 22 as he climbed to within reach of 2,400.

Only 103 players in Division I history have scored 2,400 points.

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