Roadrunners win again, pull to within two games of first place

The UTSA Roadrunners continued their hot roll on offense Saturday afternoon, pounding out 15 hits and two home runs in a 12-4 Conference USA road victory over the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders.

With the win, the surging Roadrunners pulled to within two games of the first-place Southern Miss Golden Eagles in the C-USA standings.

Earlier in the afternoon, the UAB Blazers beat the Golden Eagles, 3-2. Coming into the weekend, Southern Miss had won 15 straight. Now, the Golden Eagles have dropped two straight to the Blazers in Birmingham, a development that has allowed the Roadrunners to sneak into the title chase.

Meanwhile, in Murfreesboro, Tenn., UTSA won its second game in two days against Middle Tennessee and its sixth straight overall. Over its last 20 games, UTSA has won 17 of them. Also in the last 20, the statistics indicate that the Roadrunners are winning with hitting, averaging .324 in that stretch.

UTSA finished 15-for-43 at the plate against Middle Tennessee on Saturday. Josh Killeen stood out by smashing a third-inning grand slam to highlight a 4-for-5 performance. Killeen finished the day with 4 RBIs. Not to be outdone, Ian Bailey added a three-run homer in the ninth, as UTSA scored four runs in the final frame to put the game away.

Luke Malone (7-1) pitched 6 and 2/3 innings for the victory. He gave up three runs and nine hits along the way, but he also got some big outs. Malone fanned five. Peyton Wigginton (5-4) took the loss for the Blue Raiders. He gave up eight runs, seven of them earned, in 4 and 2/3 innings.

Jackson Galloway went 5-for-5 for Middle Tennessee, which had won five consecutive C-USA series coming into the weekend. Entering the series, Middle Tennessee had the second best RPI in the conference at 48th, while UTSA, in 51st, was third.

UTSA has won the first two games in dominant fashion, 13-2 and 12-4. The Roadrunners have hit six home runs combined in two days at Reese Smith Jr. Field. The finale of the three-game series is set for Sunday morning, with the first pitch at 11 a.m.

Records

UTSA 30-13, 14-6
Middle Tennessee 21-19, 11-9

Notable

The Roadrunners are 236 for 727 at the plate as a team (.324) over their last 20 games. They’ve also scored 195 runs (9.75 per game) during that stretch. In terms of power, they have hit 20 home runs over their last 20. But, in essence, most of their long-ball damage has been done recently, with 11 round-trippers in their last six outings.

C-USA leaders

Southern Miss 16-4
UTSA 14-6
Louisiana Tech 13-7
Florida Atlantic 12-8
Middle Tennessee 11-9
Old Dominion 11-9

Coming up

Sunday — UTSA at Middle Tennessee, 11:30 a.m.

Hot-shooting Middle Tennessee holds off UTSA, 84-75

Just when the UTSA Roadrunners seem to have discovered a semblance of rhythm on offense, their defense has collapsed.

The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders took advantage of it on their home court Monday night by shooting 64 percent in the second half en route to an 84-75 victory over the slumping Roadrunners.

Leading by six at intermission, Middle Tennessee started fast when it came out after the break, making seemingly everything from everywhere.

At one point, the Blue Raiders built a 19-point lead.

Plagued all season by inconsistent offense, the Roadrunners didn’t fold. They came from behind and pulled to within five down the stretch.

But with Middle Tennessee hitting clutch free throws in the final minute, that was as close as UTSA would get.

In the end, the Roadrunners lost their four straight game and their 13th out of 15 overall.

Records

UTSA 8-17, 1-11
Middle Tennessee 15-7, 6-3

Notable

UTSA finished 0-3 on its five-day road trip. The Roadrunners lost to Rice by 13. They lost to North Texas by 24. Now they’ve fallen to Middle Tennessee by nine. A common thread in all three games was a tendency to give up too many easy baskets. The Owls shot 62.3 percent in Houston. The Mean Green shot 54.8 percent in Denton. The Blue Raiders made 53.7 percent in Murfreesboro.

Quotable

“We’ve got to put it all together,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said on the team’s radio broadcast. “We’ve got to defend. Rebound. Get quality shots.”

UTSA by the numbers

Jordan Ivy-Curry, plagued by poor shooting in the first two games of the trip, played much better on the offensive end against the Blue Raiders. He led the Roadrunners with 19 points on 7 of 17 shooting from the field. Jacob Germany bounced back from a six-point outing at North Texas to score 16. The 6-11 center made 8 of 11 shots. Dhieu Deing scored 14 off the bench and hit four 3-point shots, including three in the second half.

Shots start to fall

For UTSA, one of the worst shooting teams in the nation, the road trip wasn’t a complete disappointment. The Roadrunners hit 50 percent from the field against Rice. After making only 29.2 percent against North Texas, they bounced back and hit 42.9 percent against Middle Tennessee, including 47 percent in the second half. UTSA hit six of 17 from the 3-point arc after intermission.

Middle Tennessee

Blue Raiders forward DeAndre Dishman played the role of Roadrunners nuisance in the second half, as he rang up 12 of his 18 points after intermission. In addition, senior guard Josh Jefferson scored 18, senior Donovan Sims produced 14 and junior Eli Lawrence 11. While the Blue Raiders hit five of their seven 3-pointers in the first half, they morphed after intermission into drivers attacking the paint. A critical play came with 54 seconds left when Sims, a 6-1 guard, drove down the middle for a layup for an 80-72 lead.

Coming up

Feb. 12 — Western Kentucky at UTSA
Feb. 17 — UTSA at Southern Miss
Feb. 19 — UTSA at Louisiana Tech

Last-place Middle Tennessee State stuns UTSA, 83-80

Jacob Germany. UTSA lost to Middle Tennessee on Saturday at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Freshman Jacob Germany made his first start for UTSA and scored six points in 14 minutes. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The last-place Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders gave up a 15-point lead and then hung on Saturday afternoon to stun the faltering UTSA Roadrunners, 83-80, in Conference USA basketball.

An announced crowd of 1,389 fans at the Convocation Center watched as UTSA, trailing by the eventual final score, tried to push the ball upcourt in the last two seconds for a shot to tie.

After two quick passes, Keaton Wallace was off the mark and late with a three-point attempt, and the Roadrunners lost at home for the second time in three days.

Blue Raiders guard C.J. Jones was the difference at the end, hitting three free throws after getting fouled with 2.8 seconds left.

Roadrunners coach Steve Henson issued a stern message to his players in the dressing room.

“It wasn’t a very positive one,” Henson said. “I just told ’em they needed to sit in there and let it sink in. Lost at home. Lost to a team that’s at the bottom of the standings. It’s not OK. We can’t be OK with it.”

The Roadrunners trailed by 15 points twice in the second half before mounting a rally that nearly resulted in a victory.

They went on a 23-8 run to tie the game at 78-all. They were tied again at 80-80 when Jhivvan Jackson missed a jumper and retrieved a loose ball to sink an 8-footer with 15 seconds left.

“It was a tough loss today,” Wallace said. “We were at home today and couldn’t get it done.”

Records

UTSA — 10-13, 4-6
Middle Tennesseee — 6-17, 2-8

By the numbers

Middle Tennessee was ranked 311th in the NCAA’s NET rankings of 353 Division I programs. UTSA was 193.

The Blue Raiders were 1-8 away from home this season and 0-5 on the road in conference before registering their biggest victory of the season.

The Roadrunners had won seven in a row and were 8-1 at home before losses to the UAB Blazers (76-68) and the Blue Raiders this week.

On Thursday night, UAB punished UTSA with a combination of offensive rebounding and inside scoring. Middle Tennessee basically won the game at the 3-point line, knocking down 14 from beyond the arc to UTSA’s nine.

Individuals

Middle Tennessee — Jones and Eli Lawrence scored 27 points apiece for the Blue Raiders. Lawrence, playing off the bench, sank and 7 of 9 threes. The 6-foot-5 freshman from Atlanta was averaging only 5.9 points per game coming in.

UTSA — Jackson finished with 32 points and seven rebounds. Wallace finished with 22 points, three rebounds and three assists.

Notable

UTSA shuffled its playing rotation, as 6-foot-11 freshman center Jacob Germany made his first career start. He finished with six points in 14 minutes. After getting bullied in the paint by UAB Thursday night, the Roadrunners did a better job on that front, with Adrian Rodriguez (17 minutes) contributing. But the change might have been detrimental to Luka Barisic, who went scoreless in seven minutes.

Middle Tennessee stops UTSA’s winning streak, 89-86

The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders snapped a 13-game losing streak at the expense of the UTSA Roadrunners, scoring an 89-86 victory at home Thursday night in Conference USA.

The Roadrunners fell behind by as many as 21 points in the second half and closed with a furious rally to make it a two-possession game for much of the final minute.

But they couldn’t sustain the momentum, ending their winning streak at seven games.

Coming into the game, UTSA held the lead in the C-USA standings and had a streak that was tied for the sixth longest in the nation.

They also had two of the top scorers in the conference in Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace.

As it turned out, the Blue Raiders didn’t let it bother them, limiting Jackson and Wallace to 19 of 49 shooting combined.

In addition, Middle Tennessee hit 27 of 55 from the field for 49.1 percent, the fourth-best shooting night of the season against the Roadrunners.

The UTSA defense hadn’t allowed a team to shoot better than 44 percent in 12 games, since South Dakota State hit 60 percent on Nov. 20 at the Gulf Coast Showcase in Florida.

Records

Middle Tennessee 4-14, 1-4
UTSA 10-8, 4-1

Notable

Marshall won at home, downing Florida Atlantic, to move into first place in the conference standings at 4-0. UTSA and the North Texas Mean Green, who were idle, are tied for second place at 4-1.

Quotable

“We were keyed in on a couple of their guys, and we did a decent job on them. A couple of guys that had not been making threes got real hot (and) that really had a big impact. They started feeling good, playing with confidence, and it snowballed on us.” — UTSA coach Steve Henson told the team’s radio broadcast.

Individuals

Middle Tennessee — Sophomore guard Donovan Sims 24 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds. Sims hit 5 threes. Junior guard Antonio Green, the team’s leading scorer, 21 points, 6 rebounds. Senior forward James Hawthorne, 20 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks. Hawthorne also had 5 threes. He had made only 5 of 19 on the season coming in.

UTSA — Jhivvan Jackson, 25 points on 10 of 28 shooting. Keaton Wallace, 24 points on 10 of 21. Wallace also had 10 rebounds and 4 steals. Byron Frohnen, 9 points, 8 rebounds. Nick Allen, 8 points on 2 of 5 shooting, including 2 of 3 from three.

No. 24 Middle Tennessee makes history with first AP ranking

The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders have vaulted into the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in program history.

Middle Tennessee is ranked 24th in the nation, according to the wire service poll released Monday.

The Blue Raiders of Conference USA are coached by Kermit Davis, who has led the program to NCAA tournament’s round of 32 in each of the past two seasons.

“You feel so happy for your players with all the hard work they’ve put in,” Davis said in a statement. You also feel great for your fan base and your MT brand, especially when you get ranked this late in the year based on the long haul and what we’ve done.”

Laying the groundwork for their rise in stature, the Blue Raiders registered round-of-64 upsets in 2016 over second-seeded Michigan State and last year over fifth-seeded Minnesota.

This year, the Blue Raiders beat Vanderbilt and Ole Miss on the road in the pre-conference and then started a dominant roll in the C-USA, winning 14 out of 15 games.

Last week they posted double-digit victories at Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech, extending their winning streak to nine.

Middle Tennessee beat UTSA by 24 points on its home floor in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on Jan. 25.

AP Top 25
Monday, Feb. 19, 2018

1. Virginia 24-2 ACC
2. Michigan State 26-3 Big Ten
3. Villanova 24-3 Big East
4. Xavier 24-4 Big East
5. Duke 22-5 ACC
6. Texas Tech 22-5 Big 12
6. Gonzaga 25-4 West Coast
8. Kansas 21-6 Big 12
9. Purdue 24-5 Big Ten
10. North Carolina 21-7 ACC
11. Cincinnati 23-4 American
12. Auburn 23-4 SEC
13. Wichita State 21-5 American
14. Arizona 21-6 Pac-12
15. Clemson 20-6 ACC
16. Ohio State 22-7 Big Ten
17. Michigan 22-7 Big Ten
18. Rhode Island 21-4 Atlantic 10
19. Tennessee 19-7 SEC
20. Nevada 23-5 Mountain West
21. West Virginia 19-8 Big 12
22. Saint Mary’s 25-4 West Coast
23. Houston 21-5 American
24. Middle Tennessee 22-5 Conference USA
25. Florida State 19-8 ACC