UTSA rolls past Lamar as Barisic produces a double-double

Luka Barisic had 18 points and 10 rebounds as UTSA beat Lamar 88-66 on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Luka Barisic supplied much-needed early offense by hitting 4 of 8 shots in the first half. He finished 7 of 11 for a career-high 18 points. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Senior forward Luka Barisic finished with a career-high 18 points and 10 rebounds Tuesday night, rallying the UTSA Roadrunners past the Lamar Cardinals, 88-66.

After trailing for much of the first half on their home floor at the Convocation Center, UTSA called on its bench to light a spark.

Three international players — Barisic, Erik Czumbel and Lachlan Bofinger — along with a few others made it happen, as UTSA defeated an NCAA Division I program for the first time this season and improved to 4-0 at home.

Taking a three-point lead into the second half, the Roadrunners started to play much better on both ends.

As a result, they routed the Cardinals 54-35 in the final 20 minutes behind 65 percent shooting from the floor.

For the game, the Roadrunners’ reserves hit 15 of 22 afield and outscored the Cardinals, 41-21.

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

Keaton Wallace missed his first three shots but made four of his last seven to finish with 12 points. — Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA has a nine-day break before opening Conference USA play at Rice.

The Roadrunners play the Owls on back-to-back days in Houston, on Jan. 1-2, to kick off the conference phase of the schedule.

Records

UTSA 4-3
Lamar 1-7

Notable

Luka Barisic, a 6-foot-10 native of Croatia, arrived at UTSA last season as a junior college transfer. After averaging 6.6 points in his first year as a Roadrunner, he entered the Lamar game averaging 7.5. Against the Cardinals, he checked in at 16:57 of the first half, and after missing his first shot, he made his next three to spark the Roadrunners. He finished 7 of 11 from the field, including 3 of 6 from three-point territory.

Quotable

“I was just feeling good. I made some shots. That raised the confidence. Then, it’s much easier to play.” — Luka Barisic.

Flow of the game

From the opening tip, Lamar played with confidence, as the team shot 50 percent from the field or better for the first 15 minutes. Guard Davion Buster led the way with three 3-point shots.

Several times, the Cardinals pushed the lead to six, the last time with 4:04 remaining before the break.

Keaton Wallace hit his only field goal of the first half with three seconds left, lifting the Roadrunners into a 34-31 lead at intermission.

The shot capped a 12-3 run for UTSA in the final four minutes and created a sense of momentum leading into the dressing room.

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

Sophomore guard Erik Czumbel had nine points, two rebounds and two assists in 22 minutes. — Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA led all the way in the second half. At one point, the Cardinals pulled within two with 15 minutes left. But the Roadrunners kicked up the tempo and sent the visitors reeling with a 21-7 run, capped by dunks from Bofinger and Jacob Germany.

UTSA led by as much as 25 with less than two minutes remaining.

Coach’s corner

Steve Henson: “I didn’t think we came out with the kind of fight that I thought we would have. We were pretty energetic at shootaround. We had a good practice yesterday. Our guys just didn’t get off to a very good start. The game itself didn’t have much flow. It was kind of slow. We weren’t getting stops and we couldn’t run … Jhivvan (Jackson) didn’t shoot it well early. That was one of the positives. We were able to play through one of those nights.”

Finding balance

The Roadrunners won by 22 points on a night when Jackson hit only 3 of 13 shots from the floor. It’s a good sign moving forward that the Roadrunners didn’t crater under those circumstances. Instead, they got balanced scoring, including the team-leading 18 points from Barisic, but also Wallace (12), Eric Parrish (11) and Germany (10). Jackson and Czumbel had nine each.

Still-developing UTSA hosts Lamar as C-USA play looms

Hoping to stay undefeated at home and ramp up efficiency to a higher level, the UTSA Roadrunners will host the Lamar Cardinals tonight at the Convocation Center. Tipoff is at 6 p.m.

Roadrunners coach Steve Henson looks on 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 coach Steve Henson wants to see improvement today as his team hosts Lamar, from the Southland Conference. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The Roadrunners (3-3) and Cardinals (1-6) are both playing their last game before opening their respective conference schedules.

Lamar, from the Southland Conference, will return home to host Southeastern Louisiana next Tuesday.

UTSA will tip off its Conference USA slate on New Year’s Day. The Roadrunners will play on the road at Rice University on a two-game swing, Jan. 1-2.

Against Lamar, UTSA will be looking for its first victory of the season against an NCAA Division I program.

They’re 0-3 against Division I teams including losses at UT Rio Grande Valley, Oklahoma and Oregon State.

The Roadrunners are coming off a resounding victory, 102-70 Our Lady of the Lake, a San Antonio-based NAIA program.

UTSA overwhelmed OLLU athletically on Sunday afternoon but had far too many mistakes to satisfy Coach Steve Henson.

“We did what we needed to do,” Henson said. “We got the win. There were a lot of positives. But there were a lot of areas that weren’t good enough. We had too many turnovers.

“We were bothered by their press, which was nothing unusual. A little surprised we didn’t handle that a little bit better. There were a lot of opportunities to break the press and go make plays.

“So there were some teachable moments. Now, we don’t have a lot of time to look at this one, because we’ve got to move quickly on to Lamar. But there’s still a lot of room for growth, and our guys know that.

“We’re not where (we want to be). We’ve got to get better — a lot better.”

Coming up

Lamar at UTSA, 6 p.m. today
UTSA at Rice, Jan. 1, 2 p.m.
UTSA at Rice, Jan. 2, 2 p.m.

Notable

The Roadrunners have produced back-to-back strong efforts on the boards. At Oregon State on Dec. 16, UTSA dominated the glass against a bigger team in the first half and led 34-30 at halftime. The Beavers retaliated with their own sustained effort after intermission and pulled out the victory, 73-61. Against OLLU, UTSA held a 65-38 edge on the boards in a 102-70 victory.

Quotable

“It’s going to help us win games. Today we got 31 offensive rebounds. I think that’s probably the most I’ve been around. It just helps give us more possessions. And we’ve been limiting teams to one shot. That’s really a key for our defense.” — UTSA guard Jhivvan Jackson

UTSA beats Lamar 76-69 in CIT playoff opener


Forward Nick Allen scores on a driving layup with 2:02 remaining to give UTSA an eight-point lead.

UTSA rallied in a home playoff game for its 20th victory of the season Wednesday night, claiming a 76-69 decision over Lamar in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament.

Playing in front of an announced 1,012 at the Convocation Center, the Roadrunners (20-14) fell behind by eight in the first half before they found a rhythm in their game.

By the second half, they started to roll, playing tough defense, moving the ball on offense and gradually wearing down the Cardinals (19-14) of the Southland Conference.

With the victory, UTSA claimed its first 20-win season in seven years. The team also earned another CIT game at home.

Officials announced that the Roadrunners from Conference USA would play in the tournament’s quarterfinals at the Convocation Center on March 22. The opponent will be announced in coming days.

“It feels really good, really good,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “I’m happy for our guys. They earned the right to play in this event, and they came out and fought really hard.

“You know, it wasn’t easy in the first half. Just hangin’ and hangin,’ trying to stay in there, and they did.

“They’re just a good team. Lamar is tough and physical. It wasn’t easy but we hung in there and popped it open a little bit in the second half.”


UTSA forward Deon Lyle hits a three late in the first half against Lamar.

Stat leaders

UTSA — Deon Lyle, 16 points, including four three-pointers, eight rebounds. Giovanni De Nicolao, 14 points, including 10 in the second half, six assists.

Nick Allen, 13 points, 11 in the second half. Byron Frohnen, 11 points, 5 of 6 shooting.

Lamar — Nick Garth, 16 points, four three-pointers. Josh Nzeakor, 13 points, nine rebounds. Joey Frenchwood, 13 points. Colton Weisbrod, 12 points, 11 rebounds.

First-half struggles

Visiting Lamar held UTSA to 38 percent shooting in seizing a 33-31 lead at intermission.

Meanwhile, Lyle scored 14 points to keep the Roadrunners in contention, hitting four three-pointers in the half.

Lamar featured a more balanced attack with Garth, Nzeakor and Weisbrod scoring six points apiece.

Playing man-to-man defense primarily, Lamar limited UTSA to only 17 points in the first 15 minutes.

A three-pointer by Cardinals guard Frenchwood lifted the visitors to a 25-17 lead with 5:20 remaining.

A turning point

From there, Lyle sparked a UTSA rally.

He scored 11 points, including three shots from beyond the arc, lifting UTSA back into contention.

“It’s not the first time he’s done that on the year,” Henson said. “You know, there’s times we’re going along and don’t have much going on the offensive end and he just jumps up and knocks down a couple of threes.

“We needed those, for sure.”


UTSA’s defense picks up intensity early in the second half as forward Nick Allen switches off his man to contest a jumper.

Shooting stars

UTSA emerged in the second half shooting the ball well, connecting on five of its first 11 attempts.

The Roadrunners took a 45-44 lead on De Nicolao’s three from the top of the key with 13:03 remaining.

Moments later, Garth tied the game at the free throw line.

But UTSA retaliated with Frohnen and De Nicolao scoring inside, and then Keaton Wallace connected on a long three for a 7-0 run over 65 seconds.

As a result, the crowd was in a roar as the Roadrunners led 53-46 with 11 minutes to play.

Lamar answered with a 12-7 run of its own that included two threes by Garth, and with 4:23 remaining, the Cardinals were within two at 60-58.

But De Nicolao banked in a three and Allen scored in the paint to push the Roadrunners ahead by seven.

Lamar got no closer than five the rest of the way.


UTSA’s Giovanni De Nicolao sets up the offense in the first half, passing to the wing for George Willborn III, who drives hard and dishes to Byron Frohnen for the layup.

Notes

UTSA, in its 37th year of basketball, registered only its second win in a postseason setting outside of conference tournament play.

The first such victory came in 2010-11, when the Roadrunners defeated Alabama State in the NCAA tournament’s round of 68.

UTSA won its 12th home game of the season and its 23rd in two years under Henson.

The dream scenario

De Nicolao, a sophomore point guard from Italy, said he thinks the Convocation Center needs to be re-decorated.

With a championship banner.

“We want to win this tournament right now, because, honestly, we want to have a (banner) somewhere — right there,” said De Nicolao, pointing to the arena rafters. “I’ve always said that.

“This year is an opportunity, and next year, I think, we’re going to have a bigger one.”

UTSA to host Lamar in first-round CIT game


Forward Byron Frohnen hits a jump hook in a Feb. 24 home game victory over Louisiana Tech.

UTSA announced Monday that it would host the Lamar Cardinals Wednesday night at 7 in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, otherwise known as the CIT.

Lamar (19-13) of the Southland Conference is led by veteran coach Tic Price.

Second-year coach Steve Henson has guided UTSA (19-14) of Conference USA to its first national postseason game since 2011 when it last played in the NCAA tournament.

On Sunday, the game was tentatively set for Wednesday night at Lamar, in Beaumont.

But officials announced Monday afternoon that it would be played at the UTSA Convocation Center, a development that pleased Henson.

Henson said that it’s “terrific” to be able to play a postseason game at home.

“Just the opportunity to play, period, is very, very exciting,” the coach said. “When you look at the number of teams that are done right now, less than 40 percent of the teams in the country are still practicing today and getting ready to play a ball game.

“(I’m) proud of our guys for earning the opportunity. Then (we feel) fortunate to get a home game here. Our guys are very excited. Looking forward to playing.”


Lamar forward Josh Nzeakor makes a quick move for a dunk against Incarnate Word on Jan. 17.

On Jan. 25, UTSA was blown out by 24 points at Middle Tennessee. It was the team’s fourth loss in five games, and it left the Roadrunners at 10-11 on the season.

In that regard, it’s surprising that the Roadrunners are practicing in the second week of March.

“It feels good to still be on the court and still be out here playing,” said junior forward Deon Lyle, who was named the C-USA’s sixth man of the year.

Forward Byron Frohnen said the team was initially told on Sunday that it would be traveling.

“But they came out this morning and said it’s going to be a home game,”
he said. “So it’s that much better for us. We did a lot of traveling in the last few weeks.

“We’re definitely excited to stay home with our fans.”