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.”

Surprising Rice Owls to test UTSA at the Convocation Center

The Rice Owls might be the surprise team of Conference USA through the first week of league play.

Coming off a 7-24 season a year ago, the Owls have posted a 7-9 record with a 2-1 mark in C-USA leading into Thursday night’s road test at UTSA.

Rice, starting three freshmen, played beyond expectations last week in home victories over Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech.

“Those are good wins for them,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “And they played very well in the (conference opener) against North Texas, who is playing as well as anybody in our league, so I think they’re feeling great about what they’re doing.”

Coach Steve Henson (left) and assistant Mike Peck confer during a timeout last week against UTEP. – Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA beat Rice twice in 2017-18, but Henson said he sees more talent on the Owls this year.

“They’ve got a bunch of new guys and a few returners,” Henson said, “and the returners are playing much better. So they’re mixing it nice. They’ve got enough pieces. They’ve got good shooters, enough size and enough quickness to be a good team every night.

“Certainly (they) probably surprised some people, but when you look at them on film, they’re pretty legit.”

Freshman guard Chris Mullins, from Mansfield Timberview, averages 12.9 points to lead four Rice players in double figures.

Other key players for second-year coach Scott Pera include junior guard Ako Adams, senior forward Jack Williams and junior forward Robert Martin, who comes off the bench.

Rice closed out the game against Louisiana Tech on Saturday in Houston with a 17-4 run in the final 4:26, securing a 78-66 victory.

Louisiana Tech came into the game at 11-4.

“One of the things that was a defining thing in this game was consistency, especially defensively,” Pera said after the game. “I’m just really proud of our kids how they dug in, again, in the second half.”

Records

Rice 7-9, 2-1
UTSA 8-7, 2-0

Notable

The Roadrunners are on a five-game winning streak, their longest since 2011-12. A victory against Rice would equal the 2010-11 team’s six straight victories. UTSA is looking for its first 3-0 start in conference since 1990-91. UTSA beat UTEP twice last week, including 75-60 in San Antonio and 67-63 in El Paso.

Pearson scores 25 as Texas State knocks off Rice, 74-60

Junior guard Nijal Pearson hit five 3-point baskets en route to 25 points Wednesday night, pacing the Texas State Bobcats past the Rice Owls, 74-60, in San Marcos.

Texas State (6-1) has won four straight leading into a Saturday afternoon road game at UTSA.

In the game played at Strahan Arena, the Bobcats beat the Owls 40-30 on the boards and made 11 of 27 shots from beyond the arc.

Chris Mullins led the Owls (3-5) with 12 points and four steals.

Pearson, from Beaumont, will come into San Antonio leading Texas State in scoring at 21 points per game.

The 6-5 guard has scored a combined 58 points in his last two games, including 33 against in a 91-68 win at Portland on Saturday night in Oregon.

As a team, the Bobcats are limiting opponents to 57.7 points on 37 percent shooting.

UTSA’s Kirby spoils Rice coaching legend’s S.A. finale

On Wayne Graham’s last trip to San Antonio as coach of the Rice Owls, his team won two out of three from UTSA and kept hope alive for a shot at the postseason.

But after the Owls shut down the home team twice on Saturday, the Roadrunners returned the favor on Sunday, courtesy of a masterful performance from pitcher Chance Kirby.

Kirby pitched into the eighth inning and struck out a career-high 13 in UTSA’s 7-0 victory.

“UT-San Antonio has a fine baseball team,” Graham said. “Winning two out of three from them here is a big deal. The kid’s pitching performance today was really that good. There’s no joke. He really pitched well.”

Baseball coaching legend Wayne Graham of the Rice Owls talks to home plate umpire Joe Brown after the fourth inning.

Any series against the Graham-coached Owls is always a highlight on the Roadrunners’ home schedule.

But this one took on added significance on April 25, when the 82-year-old, College Baseball Hall of Famer announced that this season would be his last at Rice.

Based on what he had been told by a Rice administrator, Graham said his contract would not be extended and that his 27-year tenure as coach of the Owls would be coming to an end.

Discussing the impending end of an era, UTSA coach Jason Marshall said Graham’s legacy is secure in baseball circles.

“You talk about the respect of his peers, when he sits in a room talking baseball, you just sit there and shut your mouth and listen,” Marshall said. “He is just a great baseball coach and great baseball mind (who) has always gotten the most out of his players.”

Chance Kirby struck out a career-high 13 Sunday as UTSA shut out the Rice Owls, 7-0.

Since Graham took charge in 1992, Rice has fared well on state, regional and national levels, compiling a record of 1,167-523.

Starting in 1995, the Owls embarked on a string of 23 straight NCAA tournaments, the third-longest streak in the nation behind Florida State (40) and Cal State-Fullerton (26).

In that time, they’ve played in seven College World Series, winning the 2003 national title along the way.

In the past two seasons, however, Rice’s dominance has started to fade.

Last year, the Owls struggled to a 13-25 start, before a late surge propelled them into the C-USA tournament and, ultimately, to the title at Biloxi, Miss.

This year, Rice (20-26-2) still has work to do even to qualify for the C-USA’s postseason event in Biloxi.

The Owls trail the UAB Blazers and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, both tied for eighth in the conference standings.

If the tournament started today, UAB and Western Kentucky (both 11-13) would have the edge over ninth-place Rice (9-13-2).

Fortunately for Graham, two weeks remain on the schedule, and he gets to play UAB at home next weekend before finishing at FIU.


UTSA’s Jonathan Tapia scores from third, sliding into home to beat a throw from the outfield on Ben Brookover’s second-inning sacrifice fly.

Graham, from Yoakum, turned into a solid 1950s-era amateur ball player at Houston Reagan and at the University of Texas.

He later played third base and outfield in the pros, including 10 games for the Gene Mauch-managed Philadelphia Phillies in 1963 and 20 more in ’64 for the New York Mets, under Casey Stengel.

Graham said he learned a lot in a short time under Stengel.

“I didn’t dare sit next to him on the bench–and that’s what I occupied with the Mets was the bench,” he said during his induction into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012. “But I was close enough to hear everything …

“He ran a commentary on the game as you went, especially on how the pitcher was pitching to our hitters, and I have grown to think that is pretty important.”

Graham didn’t get all the answers from Stengel.

He said he is struggling with the idea that he no longer will be coaching.

At the same time, Graham said he won’t allow his emotions to affect his work at the Owls prepare for the last two weeks.

“It’s rough off the field,” he said. “It’s not rough on the field. I’ve always come to the ball park with complete absorption in the game. I don’t have any choice. I couldn’t do it any other way.”

Having coached since the early 1970s, when he started at Houston Scarborough High School, Graham is philosophical about moving on.

“All things come to and end, unfortunately,” he said. “(But) I don’t know many people that coach that long. I’ve had 47 years in the game. Loved it.

“You know, I’m sort of like (former Texas football coach Darrell) Royal. He said the losses hurt a lot. Well, they do hurt. But I’m still able to recover. This has been a really rough year.”


Brookover sparked a two-run first inning for the Roadrunners with an opposite-field single to right.

UTSA by the numbers

Record: 26-20, 12-11 in C-USA

Place in the standings: Fifth

Sunday’s standouts

Pitching: Chance Kirby, 7 and 1/3 innings, 4 hits, 1 walk, 13 strikeouts

Hitting: 1B Ben Brookover and SS Joshua Lamb, both 2 for 4, with 3 RBI.

Fielding: Diving catches by CF Jonathan Tapia and LF Todd Bowles

Coming up

UTSA at Old Dominion, Friday through Sunday