Streaking UTSA hammers three home runs and downs Rice, 9-2

The UTSA Roadrunners on Friday backed the pitching of Luke Malone with three home runs, rolling to a 9-2 Conference USA baseball victory over the Rice Owls.

As Malone pitched into the seventh inning, the Roadrunners’ offense hummed with homers from Jonathan Tapia, Chase Keng and Shane Sirdashney on the home field of their C-USA rivals.

As a result, the Roadrunners (23-11, 8-5) won their fourth straight game. They also improved to 10-1 in their last 11.

Meanwhile, the Owls (10-25, 3-10) will try to turn it around in the second game of the series Saturday at 6:30 p.m. in Houston, at Reckling Park. The series finale is Sunday at 1 p.m.

For Rice, Guy Garibay produced three hits and two RBIs. But the UTSA pitching duo of Malone and Braylon Owens held the upper hand. Malone (5-1) allowed only two runs on five hits in 6 and 1/3 innings.

Owens, a freshman, worked 2 and 2/3 scoreless to finish the game. He gave up two hits and walked three, but he also struck out four.

In addition, the Roadrunners’ defense played error-free baseball in winning for the sixth time in their last seven C-USA games.

Tapia led the offense with a three-for-five day and three RBIs. UTSA’s leadoff man supplied the big blow with a three-run homer in a four-run second inning.

Keng and Sirdashney were also three for five in a 13-hit attack.

Keng, from Deer Park High School, hit a solo home run in the third inning and Sirdashney, also a Houston area player from The Woodlands, added solo blast in the eighth.

Czumbel-led UTSA wins regular-season finale, beats Rice, 82-71

Erik Czumbel. men's basketball beat Rice 82-71 on Saturday, March 5, 2022, at the Convocation Center in the Roadrunners' final game of the regular season. The Conference USA Tournament starts Tuesday. - photo by Joe Alexander

Erik Czumbel scored eight of his career-high 22 points in the final 3:42, leading the UTSA Roadrunners to an 81-72 victory over the Rice Owls at the Convocation Center. UTSA plays Southern Miss on Tuesday night in Frisco at the the Conference USA tournament. – Photo by Joe Alexander

With the Rice Owls mounting a comeback in the second half, somebody on the UTSA Roadrunners needed to step up with a big effort in the final regular-season game.

Erik Czumbel and Dhieu Deing answered the call in leading the Roadrunners to an 82-71 victory Saturday afternoon at the Convocation Center.

Dhieu Deing. UTSA men's basketball beat Rice 82-71 on Saturday, March 5, 2022, at the Convocation Center in the Roadrunners' final game of the regular season. The Conference USA Tournament starts Tuesday. - photo by Joe Alexander

Dhieu Deing scored 19 points and drilled two key three-pointers in the second half after Rice had trimmed the lead to one. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Czumbel scored a career-high 22 points and Deing had 19 to help the Roadrunners break a three-game losing streak and build some momentum for next week’s Conference USA tournament.

“Feels great, man,” Czumbel said. “Third (game) in a row here (at home) and finally we get the dub. Everybody is so excited in the locker room. We just got to keep building on this.”

Deing had 16 points after intermission, including a pair of 3-pointers after Rice had trimmed UTSA’s lead to one.

Czumbel finished off the Owls with eight points and a key defensive stop in the final 3:42.

Securing their first victory since Feb. 17 at Southern Miss, the Roadrunners also had major contributions from Isaiah Addo-Ankrah with 14 points and Jacob Germany with 13.

Germany kept the Owls honest with his play in the paint and in the mid-range game, while Deing knocked down five of UTSA’s 13 3-pointers. Addo-Ankrah also hit four and Czumbel three from long range.

It was quite the turnaround from Thursday night, when the Roadrunners made only one three in a 59-48 loss to North Texas.

Isaiah Addo-Ankrah. UTSA men's basketball beat Rice 82-71 on Saturday, March 5, 2022, at the Convocation Center in the Roadrunners' final game of the regular season. The Conference USA Tournament starts Tuesday. - photo by Joe Alexander

Sophomore walk-on Isaiah Addo-Ankrah hit four of seven 3-point shots and scored 14 against the Owls. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“We were so much better,” Henson said. “Shot a good percentage. Made threes. Shot a good 3-point percentage. That was terrific. Certainly, it makes it a lot easier. I was proud of the way we defended, too.”

On Feb. 3, in a game at Houston, the Owls shot 62 percent from the field as a team and rolled to a 91-78 victory over the Roadrunners.

In that game, center Max Fiedler and guards Carl Pierre and Travis Evee scorched the Roadrunners by combining for 57 points on 22 of 34 from the field. On Saturday afternoon, in San Antonio, those same three had a combined 37 on 13 of 25.

“Rice is a good offensive team,” Henson said. “They pose a lot of different problems. You got to guard their big guys in the post (Fiedler and Mylyjael Poteat). You got to guard their five out action. You got to guard their shooters, and they’re great in transition.”

UTSA will open play in the C-USA tournament on Tuesday at 7 p.m. against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. With a win, the Roadrunners would advance to play Florida Atlantic on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. All games are at The Star in Frisco.

The Roadrunners will need to win five games in five days to claim the title and a bid to the NCAA tournament.

UTSA's Phoenix Ford on senior day. UTSA men's basketball beat Rice 82-71 on Saturday, March 5, 2022, at the Convocation Center in the Roadrunners' final game of the regular season. The Conference USA Tournament starts Tuesday. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA forward Phoenix Ford holds Genesis, his 2-month-old daughter, during a Senior Day ceremony. His wife, Alicia, and coach Steve Henson share the poignant moment before tip-off. — Photo by Joe Alexander

“This just boosts our confidence,” Czumbel said. “We can do it. We know it. We just got to keep playing the way we did today. Especially on defense. That was our biggest concern coming into this game, and we proved we can be a good defensive team.”

In November and December, Czumbel was not among the team’s primary offensive weapons. In his first 11 games, he took only 24 shots and hit six of them. He was 0 for 10 on 3-point shots until making his first trey on Jan. 3.

Lately, with Jordan Ivy-Curry having left the team to enter the transfer portal, the native of Vernona, Italy, has played a much more expansive role. Against Rice, he ran the point most of the afternoon, and he also hit eight of 16 from the field and three of eight from beyond the arc.

“My teammates kept telling me to be agressive,” he said of his offensive output. “It feels great, you know. It’s been a long year. I didn’t start the year shooting well. You know, just keep working on it and keep my confidence up.”

First half

UTSA started the afternoon’s proceedings with a spontaneous dunk contest in what usually is a standard layup line.

Later, just before tipoff, the Roadrunners honored seniors Adrian Rodriguez, Phoenix Ford and Darius McNeill on Senior Day.

Both McNeill and Ford started and contributed to a 12-point lead in the game’s first six minutes, and, ultimately to a 40-34 lead at intermission.

Offensively, it may have been one of the Roadrunners’ best halves in weeks. They shot 48.4 percent from the field. They had seven assists and 15 made field goals. They also hit six 3-pointers, including three of them by sophomore Addo-Ankrah.

Notable

The victory temporarily eased the pain of a tough season for the Roadrunners, who have produced only a 4-17 record in their last 21 games. UTSA has lost four players during the course of the season. In the second half, they lost two starters — power forward Cedrick Alley Jr. to academics and Ivy-Curry to the transfer portal.

Rice has lost six of its last seven games. The dropoff coincides with the loss of all-conference guard Quincy Olivari, who had 12 points and 13 rebounds in a 91-78 victory over UTSA on Feb. 3. Olivari broke his wrist on Feb. 5 and is out for the season.

UTSA leads Rice in the all-time series, 11-8. In games played as foes in Conference USA, UTSA leads 7-6. The Roadrunners have won seven of eight meetings against the Owls in San Antonio. Rice’s only victory at the Convocation Center came in 2015 in a 76-74 decision.

Records

Rice 15-15, 7-11
UTSA 10-21, 3-15

Coming up

Conference USA tournament
Tuesday — UTSA vs. Southern Miss, 7 p.m., at Frisco

Struggling Rice, UTSA play today at the Convocation Center

Two teams searching for consistency leading into next week’s Conference USA tournament meet today at the UTSA Convocation Center in the regular-season finale.

Once regarded as a candidate to finish in the top half of the C-USA standings, the visiting Rice Owls have lost five of their last six.

Rice’s slide has coincided with the loss of all-conference guard Quincy Olivari, who broke his wrist on Feb. 5 at home against UTEP. Olivari, a third-team, all-C-USA player last season, is not expected to return this year.

The Roadrunners have lost four key players at various junctures of the season. The two major blows within the past few months came when power forward Cedrick Alley Jr. became academically ineligible and guard Jordan Ivy-Curry entered the transfer portal.

Both players were starters. UTSA has dropped three straight games and eight of nine. Long-term, the Roadrunners have struggled with a 3-14 record since mid-December.

Tipoff today is at 2 p.m.

Records

Rice 15-14, 7-10
UTSA 9-21, 2-15

Coming up

Conference USA tournament
Tuesday — UTSA vs. Southern Miss, at Frisco

Rice at a glance

The Owls lost a heartbreaker Thursday at UTEP when the Miners made a few more plays in the final minute and won, 70-67. With less than a minute remaining, a key play unfolded. With the Miners leading by one point, Owls guard Carl Pierre drove for a basket that would have given his team the lead, only to be called for a charge. A transfer from the University of Massachusetts, Pierre finished with 30 points and 11 rebounds.

UTSA at a glance

Battling the top team in the conference, UTSA played a solid game at home Thursday night for about 27 minutes. They were within three points twice of the North Texas Mean Green. In the end, the Thomas Bell, Tylor Perry and Mardrez McBride-led Mean Green pulled out a 59-48 victory. It was UTSA’s third game with fewer than 50 points this season. One was against Oklahoma. The two others were against North Texas.

The series

UTSA leads Rice in the all-time series, 10-8. In games played as foes in Conference USA, the series is tied 6-6. The Roadrunners have won six of seven against the Owls in San Antonio. Rice’s only victory at the Convocation Center came in 2015 in a 76-74 decision. On Feb. 3, in a game at Houston, the Owls shot 62 percent from the field as a team and rolled to a 91-78 victory. Led by Jacob Germany and Isaiah Addo-Ankrah, the Roadrunners were with two points with 11 minutes left but couldn’t sustain the effort. The Rice trio of Max Fiedler, Pierre and Travis Evee combined for 57 points. Those three players hit a combined 22 of 34 shots.

Rice shoots 62 percent and downs UTSA, 91-78

The Rice Owls gave up all of a 17-point lead before rolling in the second half to a 91-78 victory at home over the slumping UTSA Roadrunners.

UTSA has lost two straight and 11 of its last 13, with two more games looming on a Conference USA road trip.

“We were concerned about their outside shooting,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said on the team’s radio broadcast. “We knew their big guys were capable and they just dominated us.

“Those two guys (Max Fiedler and Mylyjael Poteat) had their way with us down in the paint.”

Utilizing an array of offensive talent, Rice hit 66.7 percent from the field in the second half and 62.3 percent for the game.

Fiedler led all scorers, pacing five Owls in double figures with 22 points. Poteat had 12 off the bench, including eight in the first half when he hit his first four shots from the field.

Center Jacob Germany scored 20 points for the Roadrunners, who had one of their best offensive showings of the season.

UTSA hit 50 percent from the field, with Darius McNeill, Isaiah Addo-Ankrah and Lachlan Bofinger all shooting the ball well. But on the other end, Rice just had too much talent to guard.

Leading 38-21 late in the first half, Rice struggled defensively and allowed UTSA to tie it 44-44 shortly after intermission. From there, the Owls started to pick up the intensity and gradually ran away with it.

Fiedler and guards Travis Evee and Quincy Olivari all scored 10 points apiece in the second half.

For UTSA, the next stop on the road trip is Denton, with a game set for 5 p.m. Saturday afternoon against the C-USA West Division-leading North Texas Mean Green.

“That’ll be an entirely different deal,” Henson said. “This game had a lot of possessions. Had a lot of flow to it. North Texas is going to cut it in half. Can’t turn the ball over against them. It’ll be tough. It’ll be a tough matchup.”

Records

UTSA 8-15, 1-9
Rice 13-8, 6-4

Coming up

Saturday — UTSA at North Texas (15-4, 8-1)
Monday — UTSA at Middle Tennessee (14-6, 5-2)

First half

Even though the Owls held a 44-40 lead at the half, the Roadrunners felt good as they ducked into the dressing room at intermissiom.

Trailing by as many as 17 points, the Roadrunners rallied behind Addo-Ankrah on a 19-6 run in the last four minutes. Addo-Ankrah hit three 3-point shots in the spree.

Notable

The Roadrunners failed to get two of their top offensive players going against the Owls. Jordan Ivy-Curry was 3 for 17 from the field and Dheiu Deing 3 of 8. Ivy-Curry finished with 10 points and Deing, playing off the bench, had seven. As the game progressed, Ivy-Curry became more of a distributor. He passed for nine assists.

Ankrah, a walk-on, finished with a season-high 15 points on 5-of-6 three-point shooting. Bofinger also had one of his better offensive games with 4-of-5 shooting and 10 points. Darius McNeill started and scored 12 points. He hit 6 of 11 field goal attempts. McNeill also had four assists and four rebounds.

Pera’s impact

Rice basketball is on the upswing under fifth-year coach Scott Pera. In 2017-18, Pera’s first season, the Owls scuffled to a 7-24 record. Last year, they finished 15-13 overall and 6-10 in conference. One of their 13 victories this year has come against the UAB Blazers, the best team in the C-USA East.

Rice hasn’t had back-to-back winning seasons since 2012 and hasn’t played in the NCAA tournament since 1970.

Rice wins 84-69, sweeps a two-game C-USA series from UTSA

If you’re a fan of the UTSA basketball program, just call it the lost weekend in Houston.

The Rice Owls rolled to a 32-point lead in the second half and then held on Saturday for an 84-69 victory over UTSA at Tudor Fieldhouse.

With the win, Rice claimed its second victory over UTSA in two days for a 2-0 start in Conference USA. Consequently, UTSA dropped to 0-2 in the C-USA West Division and to 0-5 on the road this season.

Guard Chris Mullins scored 20 points and hit three 3-point shots to lead four Rice players in double figures. Center Max Fiedler added 18 on 8 of 8 shooting from the field.

Senior Keaton Wallace and freshman Jordan Ivy-Curry scored 15 each for the Roadrunners, who will look to regroup for a two-game home series Jan. 8-9 against North Texas.

Records

UTSA 4-5, 0-2
Rice 8-2, 2-0

Coming up

North Texas at UTSA, Jan. 8-9

Notable

Coming into Houston, UTSA felt good after playing a strong game at Oregon State and then winning two straight at home. But once again, the Roadrunners couldn’t get much going on the road. They shot the ball well in the first half of Game 1 against the Owls but then couldn’t stop them from scoring in the second half. In Game 2, they were out of sync from the beginning, falling behind 22-8 in the first nine minutes. They were down 48-28 at halftime and then 66-34 with 13:40 remaining.

Quotable

UTSA coach Steve Henson: “We can’t panic. But we got to do some soul searching. You know, this group, we’re a little concerned about some intangibles. We know we got some talent. We got some size. We’ve got a little bit of everything. I wish we could finish at the rim much better. I wish we had more guys who were comfortable attacking … (with) a more downhill attack. Again, that’s such an important part of the game.

“But we’ve got enough talent in there. We just got to make sure we’re locked in, playing for our teammates. Be more vocal, more talk from our upper classmen. They can’t feel good about what happened. Right? They can’t feel good about what happened in these two ball games. Rice was better than us. Both days. There wasn’t any doubt about it. We like our talent. But we got to figure out how to play better basketball.” — Henson.

Road blues

In five road games, UTSA has played well in stretches of two of them, but in the five games combined, they’re getting outscored by a combined average of 87.6 to 69.2 On the road, the Roadrunners are shooting 38.5 percent from the field and only 27.4 percent from three, while opponents are shooting 49.1 percent afield and 41 percent from three.

Injury update

Junior forward Cedrick Alley, Jr., did not play because of a nagging groin injury that he aggravated in Game 1 on Friday. Henson said he thinks Alley will be out a couple of days when the Roadrunners start practice next week. “It’s really sore,” the coach said. “He tried to go (today) and about the 30-minute mark (before tipoff) he told us he thought he’d be able to give us a little bit. Then went out for that last warm-up right before the game and just couldn’t do it.” Henson said Eric Parrish played through a sprained ankle.

Rice newcomer scores 36 points in 95-86 victory over UTSA

Sophomore guard Travis Evee introduced himself to the UTSA Roadrunners Friday, knocking down eight 3-point shots and scoring 36 as the Rice Owls registered a 95-86 victory in the Conference USA opener for both teams.

In the game played at Tudor Fieldhouse in Houston, Evee, a first-year Rice player and a transfer from VMI, hit 13 of 19 from the field. Shooting from long range, he was equally efficient, making 8 of 13 for the Owls.

For the Roadrunners, it was a tough loss in that they played well in many phases of the game, only to allow the Owls’ second-leading scorer to get loose on them with a second-half barrage of 23 points.

After intermision, Rice overcame a six-point deficit by hitting 59 percent from the field and nine threes. The Owls outscored the Roadrunners 13-2 in the final four minutes.

“There were so many winning plays by so many different guys,” Rice coach Scott Pera said. “Max (Fiedler) with an and-one, Travis (Evee) with a pull-up jumper, Chris (Mullins) with a defensive steal (and) Quincy (Olivari) with a big bucket. Just so many different guys did so many different things down the stretch.”

The Owls (7-2, 1-0) can’t celebrate the New Year’s Day victory for too long. The Roadrunners (4-4, 0-1) will get a chance for redemption Saturday afternoon, in the same arena, with the second end of a back-to-back to open the C-USA schedule.

Records

Rice 7-2, 1-0
UTSA 4-4, 0-1

Coming up

UTSA at Rice, 2 p.m., Friday

Strong start for UTSA

The Roadrunners played well in the first half, making 54 percent from the field and forging a 48-42 lead at the intermission. Senior Keaton Wallace got untracked with 6 of 6 shooting, including 5 of 5 from three. Newcomer Cedrick Alley, a junior transfer, also emerged from some shooting woes with a solid showing and 12 points. Referees waved off Jordan Ivy-Curry’s bucket at the buzzer because of basket interference on Jacob Germany.

Roaring from behind

Reeling from Wallace’s shooting spree, the Owls didn’t flinch. Evee came out and made his first three attempts of the second half — all threes. Altogether, the Owls put together an 11-minute stretch in which they outscored the Roadrunners 33-20. Chris Mullins capped it with a drive that made it 75-68 in favor of the Owls with 9:02 remaining. At that juncture, Jhivvan Jackson, the active leading scorer in the NCAA with more than 2,100 points in three plus seasons, started to heat up. Jackson hit a couple of threes. UTSA kept applying pressure and took a 84-82 lead into the final four minutes.

Down the stretch

Playing at a fast pace all afternoon, Rice summoned enough energy at the end to outscore UTSA 13-2 in the final four minutes. Quincy Olivari scored seven of his 21 points in the run for the Owls. Evee scored five. From the four-minute mark to the buzzer, UTSA hit only one basket. The Roadrunners committed three turnovers and misfired on four threes.

Sweet victory

With the victory, Rice broke a string of four straight losses to Steven Henson-coached UTSA. The Owls’ last victory over the Roadrunners came in February of 2017, in Henson’s first year. Last season, UTSA won 90-88 at Tudor Fieldhouse on a driving layup by Erik Czumbel with one second left.

Coach’s corner

UTSA coach Steve Henson acknowledged that the Roadrunners didn’t have much of an answer for Evee, a 6-1 guard from Randolph, Mass.

“It didn’t look like we did much to slow him down,” Henson said on a zoom conference. ” … Several of his early (baskets, in the second half) we got lost (defensively). He had a good first half. He hits three in a row in the second half, and it’s pretty obvious … You can’t totally forget about the team defense concept, but, man, the guy was on fire. You can’t go under a screen at that point. You can’t over-help.”

In spite of the defensive problems, UTSA was in the game until the end, when a fairly solid offensive showing came unraveled.

“It was almost like we panicked a little bit,” Henson said. “We did not have good possessions down the stretch … Quick shots, not much movement, not much passing. Hard shots. Questionable decisions.”

At a glance — Rice

Travis Evee 36 points, 4 assists; Quincy Olivari 21 points, 7 rebounds; Chris Mullins 14 points, 5 rebounds 4 assists; Max Fiedler 12 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists.

At a glance — UTSA

Keaton Wallace 21 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists; Jhivvan Jackson 18 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals; Jacob Germany 17 points, 3 rebounds; Cedrick Alley Jr. 15 points, 4 rebounds; Eric Parrish 6 points, 6 assists.

What game winner? UTSA’s Czumbel returns to play Rice

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

Sophomore guard Erik Czumbel has emerged as a key player in the UTSA rotation, averaging 7.4 points per game in 23.9 minutes off the bench. — Photo by Joe Alexander

When UTSA guard Erik Czumbel was asked recently what he remembered about last year’s game at Rice, his basketball personality emerged in a subtle way, in something that he did not say.

“Last year, it was a competitive game,” Czumbel said. “I remember, like, they hit a lot of shots. A lot of contested threes. They played really well, and it came down to the end of the game. We played not so well in the first half. But we picked it up in the second half.”

UTSA guard Erik Czumbel, playing against Sul Ross on Dec. 4, 2020, at the Convocation Center, started two of UTSA's first six games of the season and averages 7.2 points. - photo by Joe Alexander

Czumbel, a sophomore from Verona, Italy, gives the Roadrunners a physical defensive presence in the backcourt. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Oh, and, one other thing.

Just for the record, the 6-foot-3 former Italian U-18 national team member did hit the game-winning layup with one second remaining in the Roadrunners’ pulsating 90-88 victory over the Owls.

But in keeping with Czumbel’s low-key persona as a ball player, reporters more or less had to pry that out of him with a follow-up question in a zoom conference earlier this week.

“So, Erik,” he was asked, “what do you remember about UTSA’s last offensive possession?”

Czumbel smiled.

“I know I scored the game winner last year,” he said. “They had an inbounds play from the baseline. I think we got a deflection. I remember Byron (Frohnen), I think, passing me the ball. I knew there were not that many seconds left. I just took off and tried to get a layup. And, so it went in.

“Happy ending.”

The subject of Czumbel’s heroics a year ago come up again as the Roadrunners (4-3) prepare to play the Owls (6-2) on Friday and again on Saturday in Houston. On both days, tipoff is at 2 p.m. at Tudor Fieldhouse.

In Czumbel, the Roadrunners have found themselves a player who doesn’t really like talking about himself, doesn’t necessarily have to shoot to affect the outcome of a game and as a result is endearing himself to coaches who love the attitude.

When he does shoot, the results speak with increasing volume.

Playing off more heavily guarded Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace, the combo guard from Verona, Italy, connects on 57.7 percent from the field and 57.9 percent from three, all while averaging 7.4 points.

“Just a great teammate,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “(He’s) a very, very tough, focused and conscientious player. Talk about every-day guys. He’s an every-day guy. He’s very, very tough physically. He tries to do exactly what you tell him.

“He’s a word-for-word guy. You tell him to go and pick on the wing at a certain angle, and he’s going to go and do it exactly the way you tell him to do it.”

Czumbel arrived in San Antonio in the summer of 2019 as a player UTSA coaches hoped would fill the void left by another Italian, former three-year starter Giovanni de Nicolao.

When De Nicolao broached the idea about leaving UTSA after his junior year to play pro ball in his native country, the Roadrunners started scanning the horizon.

It wasn’t long before they spied Czumbel, rising up in the ranks of the Italian junior circuit.

He had played for Team Italy in the FIBA U-18 European Championships, where he averaged 8.3 points, 2.4 assists and 1.6 rebounds.

Rotnei Clark, one of the greatest scorers in Oklahoma high school basketball history, helped facilitate the Roadrunners’ contact with Czumbel.

A player once recruited by Henson, Clark was starting for a pro team in Italy at the time, with Czumbel backing him up.

“He guards me every day. He’s an unbelievable defender,” Clark told Henson on the phone one day. “He’s tough. He’s coachable.”

Replied Henson, “That’s what we want. That’s what we need.”

As a result, Czumbel visited UTSA in the spring of 2019 and committed, reportedly shunning Loyola Marymount and another school that he had visited.

Last year, he played 32 games and started 24. This year, he’s played in all seven of UTSA’s games and has started two. He’s averaging 23.9 minutes.

UTSA assistant coach Scott Thompson is most happy to see Czumbel make steady progress.

It’s also not surprising at all to Thompson that Czumbel, who will turn 21 on Jan. 11, doesn’t seem fazed by playing on the road at Oklahoma or Oregon State.

In Europe, Czumbel played a lot of games in second division games against older players.

“The European game, there’s a toughness to it,” Thompson said. “They’re all about team. They’re all about winning.”

After a rocky start that included two bad losses at UT Rio Grande Valley and Oklahoma, the Roadrunners have started to play better.

After nearly upsetting Oregon State on the road, they’ve won two straight, notching lopsided home victories over Our Lady of the Lake and Lamar.

Czumbel is encouraged.

He said he likes the way the team is getting more production out of more players. He said he also likes the way the Roadrunners utilized a break between the Lamar and the Rice games.

“I think we’re working really hard,” he said. “We still have a lot of improvement (to make) … But we’ve seen some improvements already.

“I think from the first few games, coach said this is the best offensive ranking we’ve had in five years. With Jhivvan and Keaton not shooting it really well, it doesn’t feel that way.

“It’s amazing how it is. Because, we’re getting to the line more. We have a lot of players that don’t play big minutes but still average high points. So I think we’re improving every day. We look good.”

Henson said Czumbel has earned his coaches’ and teammates’ respect.

“Right now he’s coming off the bench, but he’s a starter and he’s going to be in the game at key points in the game,” the coach said. “We have a lot of confidence in him. His teammates have a lot of confidence in him. He affects the game, even when he’s not scoring.”

And when he does shoot it? Often times, good things happen for the Roadrunners on those occasions, as well.

Just ask the Rice Owls.

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

Mama Mia! UTSA routs Rice, 95-79, for sixth straight victory

Junior guard Giovanni De Nicolao had 19 points and 7 assists in UTSA's 95-79 Conference USA victory over Rice on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Junior guard Giovanni De Nicolao broke out of a shooting slump by scoring a season-high 19 points, to go along with 7 assists, in a 16-point victory against Rice. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The UTSA Roadrunners cranked up a high-energy offense Thursday night, rolling past the Rice Owls, 95-79, for their sixth straight win.

UTSA’s winning streak is the team’s longest in three years under Coach Steve Henson and the longest overall since 2010-11, when the program last qualified for the NCAA Tournament.

In addition, the Roadrunners improved to 3-0 in conference for the first time since 1990-91, when they won the Trans America Athletic Conference regular-season crown.

Only one team in school history started 4-0, and it happened 30 years ago in 1988-89, also in the TAAC.

UTSA will try to match that start on Saturday night when it hosts the North Texas Mean Green in a game between in-state rivals, both undefeated in Conference USA.

North Texas improved to 16-1 and 4-0 in C-USA after winning 58-51 on the road at UTEP.

Against the Owls, Jhivvan Jackson led the Roadrunners with 24 points, and Nick Allen had 20. Giovanni De Nicolao produced 19, while Keaton Wallace had 16.

Allen and De Nicolao hit individual season highs in scoring on a night when the Roadrunners also notched the most points in a game this year against a Division I program.

Rice men's basketball coach Scott Perra. - photo by Joe Alexander

Rice coach Scott Pera. – Photo by Joe Alexander

In the locker room afterward, Henson congratulated the players on reaching a goal of making fewer than 10 turnovers — they had eight.

But perhaps the story of the night indiviually was De Nicolao, a junior guard from Italy, who entered the game shooting 31 percent from the field and 10.9 percent (3 of 29) on three pointers.

“Finally,” De Nicolao said. “Lately I haven’t been shooting well. My three (point) percent is awful. Finally I got some shots (to go in).”

De Nicolao hit 7 of 13 from the field and 3 of 6 from long distance. On one of his threes in the second half, UTSA fans were chanting, “Mama Mia,” in a salute to his Italian heritage.

He also saw some fans giving him an Italian hand gesture, with the thumb pressed against fingers, which De Nicolao also enjoyed.

“I mean, everybody thinks it’s something in Italian,” he said, making the gesture for emphasis during his post-game interview with reporters. “This means, like, ‘What are you doing?’ in Italian. Like when you drive, and somebody cuts you off, it’s like, ‘What are you doing?’

“It doesn’t really mean anything. But everyone in America thinks it’s something. I don’t know. It’s fun. I like it.”

Records

UTSA 9-7, 3-0
Rice 7-10, 2-2


Giovanni De Nicolao and Keaton Wallace nail three-point baskets on consecutive possessions late in the first half.

First half

The Roadrunners unleashed a fast-paced offense and multiple shooters en route to a 46-37 lead at the intermission.

It was UTSA’s highest-scoring half since Dec. 17 when they hit for 56 against NAIA Bethany, Kansas.

De Nicolao had perhaps his best offensive half of the season with 12 points on 4 of 6 shooting, including 2-for-2 on three-pointers.

Allen also touched the ball frequently and scored 10, hitting 4 of 8 shots. Wallace added 10 and Jackson eight.

Rice leaders

Quentin Millora-Brown, 14 points, on 7 of 9 shooting, 9 rebounds. Chrs Mullins, 14 points. Ako Adams, 10. Trey Murphy III, 10.

Rice entered the game with some momentum, having won back-to-back games at home against Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech.

Notable

The record for the longest winning streak in school history? It’s 13 games, which was established in 1983-84, in the third year of the program.

Quotable

Asked whether UTSA could score 95 every night, Henson said, “Well, there were some reasons for it that I was excited about. The 95 points didn’t really mean anything. But the limited turnovers — we had been talking about that for weeks and weeks … We got a team that plays fast and aggressively, but that doesn’t mean we’ve got to turn the ball over. So, finally, tonight was the night (with eight, and 22 assists).”


UTSA sophomore Jhivvan Jackson, who entered the night as the second-leading scorer in C-USA, hits a jumper late in the second half over Rice big man Jack Williams. Jackson sank 9 of 23 from the field, 3 of 10 from three and 3 of 3 on free throws.

Forward Nick Allen steps up on offense for streaking UTSA

Nick Allen. UTSA beat Southeastern Oklahoma State 70-67 on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Nick Allen has averaged 11.2 points on 55 percent shooting in UTSA’s last five games.

Winners of five games in a row, the UTSA Roadrunners continue to tweak their offensive execution in hopes of getting more players involved, and senior forward Nick Allen has stepped up to answer the call.

Allen has averaged 11.2 points on 55 percent shooting during the streak, leading into tonight’s Conference USA home test against the Rice Owls.

Highlighting UTSA’s longest streak in seven years, Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace have led the way, playing at a high level almost every night.

But Allen, a senior from Arizona, has emerged as a third-option threat by knocking down 23 shots in 42 attempts combined against Bethany, Kansas; Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Southeastern Oklahoma State and UTEP (twice).

It’s been a major change in the offense from earlier in the season when, at times, the Roadrunners seemed to rely too much on their two standouts.

“That goes back to our attention to detail, executing on the offensive side,” Allen said. “It’s not just, ‘Hey, this is what we’re looking for.’ You know, it’s like, ‘You got to run the plays correctly.’ And if you run them correctly, there’s a lot of options to score.”

Coming off two victories over the Miners to open conference play, UTSA continued work earlier this week on the offensive nitty gritty to prepare for home games tonight against Rice and Saturday against the North Texas Mean Green.

“We keep talking about getting sharper and getting better shots and limiting turnovers,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “Coming off two games in conference where we had 10 one night and 12 the next, it’s closer. Single digits would be fantastic.

“We got to all be on the same page what a good possession looks like.

“With scorers like Jhivvan and Keaton, there (are) going to be a lot of quick shots. But we also need good possessions where we get the ball side to side, get paint touches. We needed to spend a lot of time on that (this week).”

In other words, the Roadrunners are trying to expand their repertoire of threats.

For UTSA to win consistently, the team surely will need more offense from Allen, Byron Frohnen, Giovanni De Nicolao — who all start — and also from bench players like Adokiye Iyaye and Atem Bior.

In Allen’s opinion, the Roadrunners at times this season have seemed “funneled in on one” option at times. Now, he said, it seems as if the offensive sets are producing much more variety.

“We kind of let the offense breathe a little bit,” Allen said. “It’s opening up a lot of stuff for a lot of people. It’s good. I think that’s where it’s coming from.”

Notable

Allen’s increased production on offense may be related to simple physics. The 6-8 forward said he has trimmed down to 227 pounds — about eight pounds under his opening-day weight.

“I started off the season right around 235 and shaved a couple of pounds off,” Allen said. “I feel a little bit better. It’s weird, you know, I didn’t think I would notice it as much.

“But after shaving a little weight, I feel a little bit more mobile. I can move a little bit better now.”