Golden Eagles hold off Ivy-Curry, Roadrunners, 74-73

Jordan Ivy-Curry. UTSA men's basketball lost to Southern Miss 74-73 on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jordan Ivy-Curry produced 23 points and five rebounds, but the UTSA Roadrunners came up short, losing 74-73 to the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. — Photo by Joe Alexander

The Southern Miss Golden Eagles snapped a six-game losing streak at the expense of the UTSA Roadrunners Thursday night, making just enough plays down the stretch to emerge with a 74-73 victory at the Convocation Center.

For UTSA, it was a heartbreaking setback in the team’s first true test without high-scoring guard Dhieu Deing, whose departure from the program apparently had been percolating since early in the week but was announced just before tipoff.

“We’re not going to go into any great detail about it,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said after the game. “You know, we love him. Dhieu did a great job for us. He worked really, really hard. He competed. He loved the game. He just felt like he had some opportunities to go play professionally.

Cedrick Alley Jr.'s shot on the final play of the game. The ball did not go in and no foul was called. UTSA men's basketball lost to Southern Miss 74-73 on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Was it a foul? Nothing was called as a Southern Miss player appears to hit the arm of UTSA’s Cedrick Alley Jr. on the game’s last play. Alley finished with 15 points, four rebounds and three steals. — Photo by Joe Alexander

“We wish him well with that. It was pretty abrupt. I don’t know if that’s been on his mind or not. It just happened this week, and we wish him well.”

Deing, a junior college transfer who had played for South Sudan in an Afro Basket tournament over the summer, finished his 13-game UTSA career averaging 15.3 points.

In what would be his last game for UTSA, went 0-for-11 from the field and scored two points in a 28-point road loss at UAB last Saturday.

On Monday, he didn’t play at home against Dallas Christian College, and the Roadrunners rolled to an easy victory, winning 101-48.

Returning to conference play against Southern Miss, the Roadrunners played fairly well, considering that Deing had carried such a heavy load in November and December. Just not well enough to keep them from falling to 0-2 in C-USA play.

Aleu Aleu. UTSA men's basketball lost to Southern Miss 74-73 on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Forward Aleu Aleu made an impact for the Roadrunners with 11 points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Guard Jordan Ivy-Curry led four UTSA players in double figures with 23 points. In the second half, he scored 19 and the Roadrunners shot 48 percent from the field. They also knocked down six of 10 shots from long distance.

In addition, Aleu Aleu continued to show off impressive skills, which included an offensive rebound and an up-and-under move at the hoop, a step-back, three-point shot and a pull-up jumper from the free throw line after faking a drive.

It was all included in an 11-point showing.

UTSA’s troubles started in the first half, when their defense sagged and their offense didn’t click and they fell behind by 10. Undeterred, the Roadrunners rallied behind Aleu and Jacob Germany to pull into a 32-32 tie at intermission.

After taking a five-point lead early in the second half, the Roadrunners allowed the Golden Eagles to get off the mat and make their own comeback.

Guards Jarron Pierre Jr., Rashad Bolden and center Isaih Moore led the way.

The trio helped turn a 37-32 deficit in the first minute after intermission into a 41-39 lead for when Bolden drove to the bucket in transition and converted a three-point play.

From there, Southern Miss boosted the lead to 57-49 when Pierre drained two long three-pointers, the second coming with 9:14 left. In response, UTSA rallied again.

The Roadrunners made some stops and kept chipping away and, with 1:17 remaining, cut the visitors’ lead to 72-71 on three Ivy-Curry free throws.

On the next possession, the Golden Eagles seized the upper hand with the help of what arguably could be called a little luck.

Defended well on the wing by the Roadrunners’ Aleu Aleu, Pierre hoisted a three-point shot from the corner that was long.

Darius McNeill. UTSA men's basketball lost to Southern Miss 74-73 on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Senior Darius McNeill played 17 minutes and scored seven points on 3 of 7 shooting. — Photo by Joe Alexander

If the Roadrunners could have grabbed the rebound, they could have come up the court with about a minute remaining with a chance to take the lead.

Instead, Pierre’s miss skipped off the rim, caroming long and into the waiting hands of Bolden, who was fouled. Headed to the line facing a one-and-one situation, he made both for a 74-71 edge with 47.3 seconds left.

On the other end, UTSA moved to make up for the missed opportunity, taking only about 12 seconds to score. Ivy-Curry found Cedrick Alley Jr., who went up strong to the hoop for a layup, bringing the Roadrunners to within 74-73.

On the Golden Eagles’ last possession, Walyn Napper misfired on a runner in the lane, giving the Roadrunners one last chance.

Ivy-Curry pushed it up court again. Once again, he dished under the basket to Alley. This time, Alley drew contact. His attempt was batted away at the buzzer by Moore, a 6-foot-10 St. John’s transfer.

“We were going to try to get a stop and push it, which is exactly what we did,” Henson said. “We got it to Juice. We wanted to attack before they got their defense set.

He drove it hard to the outside, and he had a chance to turn the corner. (But) he didn’t. He really kept his composure and got back in the middle and made a real nice play to Cedrick. We had a shot right at the basket. We just couldn’t convert it.”

Christian Tucker. men's basketball lost to Southern Miss 74-73 on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Freshman Christian Tucker started at point guard and finished with four points and four rebounds. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Asked if he could see contact from a defender on the play, Henson shrugged, declining an opportunity to suggest that the home-team Roadrunners deserved a call at that critical juncture.

“It was the right play for us to make,” the coach said. “They challenged the shot. They’ve got good length in there. We had a lot of shots that looked just like that through the course of the game. We just weren’t able to convert.

“I’d have to look at film to see if there was contact. We just don’t want to be in that position.”

Records

Southern Miss 5-8, 1-0
UTSA 7-8, 0-2

Coming up

Saturday, 2 p.m. — Louisiana Tech at UTSA.

Jacob Germany. UTSA men's basketball lost to Southern Miss 74-73 on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jacob Germany hits the floor in a scramble for the ball against Southern Miss. Germany had 10 points, nine rebounds and three steals. — Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA announces Dhieu Deing’s departure from the team

Dhieu Deing. UTSA beat Lamar 79-73 in men's basketball on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

High-energy guard Dhieu Deing (No. 3) has left the UTSA basketball program. Deing was the team’s leading scorer at 15.3 points per game. – File photo by Joe Alexander

Thursday night update

UTSA announced Thursday night that guard Dhieu Deing is no longer on the team.

“Dhieu Deing is no longer going to be a member of our basketball program,” a statement from UTSA athletics said. “He has elected to pursue professional basketball opportunities.”

From Wednesday

UTSA coach Steve Henson says that guard Dhieu Deing, the team’s leading scorer, will not play when the Roadrunners host the Southern Miss Golden Eagles in a Conference USA game Thursday night at the Convocation Center.

“We’ll put out a statement on him in the next couple of days,” Henson said Wednesday. “I’m just going to leave it at that, for now. He will not be in uniform tomorrow night.”

Asked if Deing might also be out for Saturday afternoon’s home game against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, the coach declined comment.

The loss of Deing has emerged as the latest in a string of challenges for the Roadrunners, who have been erratic in their level of play all season and have had a mix of setbacks ranging from injuries, to players in Covid protocols.

Deing’s absence is not Covid-related, but it might be the toughest to overcome, especially if he is out for an extended period of time.

The 6-foot-5 junior, a newcomer, is one of the team’s best athletes.

Even though he has been mired in a slump, shooting 0-for-11 from the field in a 28-point loss last Saturday at UAB, Deing has averaged 15.3 points and 5.7 rebounds in 13 games played.

He sat out his first game of the season on Monday night when the Roadrunners pounded the Dallas Christian Crusaders, 101-48, in non conference.

In trying to adjust without him, Henson said the Roadrunners will miss his energy and his rebounding, but he said he hopes his players can use it as an “opportunity” to continue work on getting better shots in the offense.

“Southern Miss is a good defensive team,” Henson said. “It won’t be easy to get those good shots. Hopefully we can find a way to move it one more time. Get one more ball reversal. Get one more paint touch and a high percentage shot.”

UTSA had lost three straight games before beating Dallas Christian.

As the Roadrunners move into the thick of the conference schedule, they’ll look to center Jacob Germany (14.4 points), point guard Jordan Ivy-Curry (13.9) and Cedrick Alley (9.4) and others to fill the scoring void for as long as Deing is out.

In Southern Miss, UTSA will need to defend against a low-post, oriented offense.

Isaih Moore, a 6-10 transfer from St. John’s, leads the Golden Eagles with 12.2 points and 6.8 rebounds. Junior Tyler Stevenson averages 12.1 points and 8.4 rebounds. Southern Miss has lost six straight.

Coming up

Thursday, 7 p.m. — Southern Miss at UTSA
Saturday, 2 p.m. — Louisiana Tech at UTSA

Records

Southern Miss 4-8, 0-0
UTSA 7-7, 0-1

Notebook

Cedrick Alley and reserve center/forward Phoenix Ford are expected to return to action Thursday. Alley fell in the road game at UAB last Saturday, and, consequently, Henson held him out Monday against Dallas Christian. Ford has been out for the last three games, including the trip to Illinois State on Dec. 21 for personal reasons. On Christmas Eve, his girlfriend gave birth to the couple’s first child. Since then, Ford has missed the UAB and Dallas Christian games in Covid protocols.

Deing, a native of Louisiana who grew up in North Carolina, played for two colleges before joining the Roadrunners this summer. He also played for South Sudan in a FIBA Afro Basket tournament last summer. At one point earlier in the season, he had four games of 20 or more points in a string of six outings. Recently, he has slumped, hitting only 8 of 45 shots from the field in his last three outings.

The Golden Eagles suffered a tough break in late November when they lost their leading scorer, Tae Hardy, to a shoulder injury.

Coach Jay Ladner’s team has since lost six in a row. They’re playing their first game since Dec. 21 when they lost by one at East Carolina. After a holiday break, they returned to campus only to have both of their first two conference games — against Western Kentucky and Marshall — postponed due to COVID protocols.

Louisiana Tech (11-3, 2-0) is regarded as one of the favorites to win the C-USA title. The Bulldogs won two at home last week, downing Marshall by 23 points and Western Kentucky by one. LA Tech is led by forward Kenneth Lofton, Jr. Lofton, who played on a USA national basketball team last summer, averages 17.5 points and 9.9 rebounds.

UTSA wins 78-72 to take two from Southern Mississippi

UTSA's Jacob Germany blocks a shot by Southern Miss' Jaron Pierre Jr. with 18 seconds left in the game. UTSA beat Southern Miss 78-72 in Conference USA action at the Convocation Center on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA’s Jacob Germany blocks a shot by Southern Miss’ Jaron Pierre Jr. with 18 seconds left in the game. — Photo by Joe Alexander

For the UTSA Roadrunners, the stakes were high coming into a weekend series against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. Sitting in last place in the Conference USA West division standings, the Roadrunners couldn’t afford to lose either of two games at home in the Convocation Center.

Lifted by the scoring of Jhivvan Jackson and a team effort that included clutch plays from two underclassmen, the Roadrunners completed their first C-USA sweep of the season Saturday afternoon with a 78-72 victory over the Golden Eagles.

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

Jhivvan Jackson scored 24 points and hit six three-point shots Saturday afternoon. — Photo by Joe Alexander.

Jackson scored 24 points and passed for six assists. Sophomore Jacob Germany blocked two shots in the last minute and, not to be denied, precocious freshman Jordan Ivy-Curry sank two free throws with 14 seconds remaining to help fend off the visitors from Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

UTSA coach Steve Henson was pleased to win two but he lamented his team allowing Southern Miss to make it so close down the stretch. The Roadrunners led by 15 with nine minutes remaining and then had to scramble at the end to avoid what might have been a crushing loss.

“It was a little more drama than we really needed,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “Both games, really. We had too many good stretches to make it that difficult.”

Looking at it another way, the Roadrunners felt much better about themselves after their fourth series in the C-USA’s regular season. Two losses at Rice, followed by a split at home against North Texas, followed by another two road losses at Louisiana Tech had them buried at 1-5 and searching for answers.

Adrian Rodriguez started his second game in a row, both Roadrunners victories, as UTSA beat Southern Miss 78-72 in Conference USA action at the Convocation Center on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. - photo by Joe Alexander

Adrian Rodriguez started his second game in a row, both Roadrunners victories, as UTSA beat Southern Miss 78-72 in Conference USA action. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Last week, Henson said he felt like the Roadrunners weren’t that far away from turning around their fortunes. He was right on that point. Against Southern Miss, Jackson flashed the form that has led to all-conference designations each of the past two seasons. On Friday, he had 25 in a 70-64 victory, and then he went off again on Saturday.

Playing in front of the home fans, his showmanship has become almost routine until you consider that he has scored 2,328 points in a little more than three years, boosting him into a tie for 139th in NCAA basketball history, according to a list published by sports-reference.com.

On Friday, Jackson was aggressive, drawing contact that put him on the free-throw line 13 times. On Saturday, he launched from long distance, nailing six of 10 from beyond the arc. More than anything, Jackson is buoyed by the improvement of a team desperate to get back into the mix of contenders in the C-USA.

“Like I was telling ya’ll yesterday, we need every win we can get,” Jackson said. “We fought hard today on defense. We didn’t make a lot of shots today — down the stretch, especially. But our defense kept us in. Free throws, as well. Today was more defense than offense.”

Records

UTSA 3-5, 7-8
Southern Miss 3-5, 7-8

Coming up

UTEP at UTSA, Thursday, 6 p.m.

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

Guard Jordan Ivy-Curry drives it on the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. The freshman from La Marque had 22 points combined in victories Friday and Saturday. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Notable

Two young players on the UTSA roster stepped up when the team needed them most. Just as the rest of the C-USA was about to write off the Roadrunners who were 1-5 in conference coming into a two-game series against Southern Miss, sophomore Jacob Germany and freshman Jordan Ivy-Curry helped lead the team to a couple of much-needed victories. Germany had a double-double on Friday night and came back with 13 points and eight rebounds Saturday afternoon. Germany, a 6-11 center, added two blocks in the final minute. Ivy-Curry nailed a clutch three to stop a late Southern Miss run in Game 1, and then followed with 14 points and four rebounds in Game 2. The player known as “Juice” added an exclamation point by knocking down two free throws with 14.3 seconds left Saturday.

Quotable

“We talked last year about Jacob’s poise … Some of those non-conference games against high major opponents, he was relaxed. Comfortable. Very, very poised. Juice is very, very comfortable. You know, the moment is certainly not going to be too big for him. The three-pointer that Juice hit last night was huge. Southern Miss had gone zone (on defense). We ran the play exactly the way we wanted the first zone possession and Jhivvan missed a three. Then we turned it over … All of a sudden, it was going to start wearing on us, and Juice was open, bangs a three and that was a huge play in the game … Jacob makes game-winning plays (with blocks, both games) … Juice just plays.” — UTSA coach Steve Henson.

Individually

UTSA — Jhivvan Jackson, 24 points on 8 of 18 shooting, including 6 of 10 from three. He also had four rebounds, six assists and three steals. Jordan Ivy-Curry, 14 points, including 3 of 5 threes. Jacob Germany, 13 points on 6 of 11 shooting. Eight rebounds. Two blocks. Keaton Wallace, 12 points on 4 of 19 shooting. Five rebounds. Four assists.

Southern Miss — LaDavius Draine, 19 points on 5 of 10 from three. Tyler Stevenson, 15 points and 10 rebounds. Jaron Pierre Jr., 12 points on four of eight shooting. Four rebounds. Two assists. Two steals. DeAndre Pinckney, 12 points, seven rebounds, two assists, two blocks.

Furthermore

The Roadrunners were able to hang on Saturday in spite of making only two field goals in the final 8:48. One of the buckets can be seen in the video below:

In a key second-half play, UTSA forward Cedrick Alley, Jr., runs the wing, takes a pass from Jhivvan Jackson and slams it on the Southern Miss Golden Eagles.

Jackson scores 25, UTSA hangs on to defeat Southern Miss

Jhivvan Jackson. UTSA beat Southern Miss 70-64 in Conference USA action at the Convocation Center on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jhivvan Jackson scored 25 points, including seven in the last two minutes, as UTSA pulled out a victory over Southern Miss. — Photo by Joe Alexander

After downing the Southern Miss Golden Eagles 70-64 Friday night, the UTSA Roadrunners gave themselves a chance to dream of pulling off a compelling first this season.

For the first time, they can win both ends of a two-game, Conference USA series if they can just dig down and do the little things again Saturday afternoon. Game time between West Division rivals is set for 3 p.m. at the Convocation Center.

Steve Henson. UTSA beat Southern Miss 70-64 in Conference USA action at the Convocation Center on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Steve Henson said he felt good about one of his team’s better defensive efforts this season. — Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA senior Jhivvan Jackson said it would mean “everything” if UTSA could complete the double against Southern Miss.

“Right now, we need every win we can get,” said Jackson, who led the Roadrunners with 25 points. “Our players know that. Everybody knows, we’re last (place) right now. Everybody’s seen it because we got the standings right outside the locker room.

“You know, we’re not a team to be last. We understand that. But, it takes a lot (to win). You know, it takes playing defense.

“I feel like ya’ll get tired of me saying ‘play defense.’ But that’s all that’s stopping us from getting wins. Regardless if we shoot bad, or, we have a bad shooting night, we’re still one of the top offensive teams in the league.

“At the end of the day, we got to come back tomorrow and play better defense than we did today.”

Playing better on the defensive end than they did Friday could be a tall order. The Roadrunners, who, statistically, rank as one of the poorest defensive teams in the C-USA, held the Golden Eagles to 5 of 20 shooting from the field in the first 14 minutes of the game.

Southern Miss, led by guard Tyler Stevenson, ended up making it a very competitive game. What was once a 17-point UTSA lead in the first half was whittled to five at halftime and to one twice late in the second half.

Nonetheless, the Roadrunners held the Golden Eagles to 37.1 percent shooting for the game, which was the difference as the Roadrunners snapped a two-game losing streak.

“It was close,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “We had an opportunity (in the second half) to pop it open and couldn’t do it … But overall, very, very pleased with our intensity, our fight, our effort. You could see our guys came out with the right mindset in the first half. One of our better defensive games.”

Records

UTSA 6-8, 2-5
Southern Miss 7-7, 3-4

Coming up

Southern Miss at UTSA, 3 p.m. Saturday

Notable

Injured starting guard Erik Czumbel didn’t play for the Roadrunners. As a result, UTSA went with Jackson, Keaton Wallace and Eric Parrish on the wings, with Adrian Rodriguez (in his first start) at one forward and Jacob Germany in the post. Czumbel banged his knee in a collision with another player in practice on Thursday, and it was decided that he wouldn’t play. Henson is hopeful the sophomore from Italy can be ready for Saturday.

Quotable

“(Czumbel) is one of our toughest guys. He’ll play through anything. He just couldn’t do it. I saw him on my way to do the radio … The doctor looked at him. He’s feeling better every hour. He was moving better after the game than he did earlier today. So hopefully, we can get him back out there … He looked good 15 minutes ago,” Henson told reporters on a zoom conference.

UTSA by the numbers

With the victory, the Roadrunners improved to 6-1 at home in the Convocation Center … Jackson hit season highs in free throw makes (11) and attempts (13). His production in both of those categories is down from last year, when he was the nation’s second-leading scorer … Interestingly, history shows that UTSA has been up and down in the first seven games of the C-USA schedule under Henson, whose first year with the program was 2016-17. In his first year, he was 4-3, followed by 2-5, 5-2, 3-4 and now 2-5 again … In 2017-18, the first season at UTSA for guards Jackson and Keaton Wallace, Henson’s Roadrunners bounced back from the 2-5 start to finish 11-7 and tied for second in the conference …

Individually

UTSA — Jackson, 25 points, on 6 of 15 from the field. Also, 2 of 7 from three and 11 of 13 at the line. Wallace, 18 points, including 3 of 8 from three. He also had eight rebounds. Jacob Germany, 11 points, 11 rebounds, five blocked shots.

Southern Miss — Tyler Stevenson, 23 points and 10 rebounds. He hit 8 of 18 from the field. Jaron Pierre, Jr., 10 points, three assists. LaDavius Draine, eight points on three of eight shooting.

For UTSA, can a ‘down-hill’ offense lead to a better defense?

UTSA men's basketball head coach Steve Henson at Friday's game against North Texas at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Coach Steve Henson and the UTSA Roadrunners host the Southern Miss Golden Eagles tonight. — Photo by Joe Alexander

If you run across a perfect formula for guarding the pick and roll in basketball, please let me know.

I’ve been watching hoops closely since the 1970s. Since Texas’ Abe Lemons chomped on those short, un-lit cigars in Austin. Since Doug Moe’s Spurs jingle-jangled their way out of the ABA and into the NBA.

Jhivvan Jackson. UTSA beat North Texas 77-69 in a Conference USA game on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Steve Henson says he’d like to get Jhivvan Jackson, UTSA’s all-time leading scorer, involved in more action going toward the basket. — Photo by Joe Alexander

And with all due respect to Hubie Brown and Gregg Popovich, two of the greatest defensive strategists of all time, I really haven’t seen anyone come up with a fool-proof method to stop the pick (or screen) and roll.

A ball handler dribbles at the top of the key with a defender, knees bent, hoping to get a stop. The ball handler’s teammate runs over and screens the defender. Freed from pressure for an instant, ball handler pounds the dribble and surges into the lane. Defensive players rotate to stop the drive. Screener rolls to the hoop…

Coaches through the ages have debated how to defend such a ploy. But, in the vast majority of instances, the offense gets a basket or, at least, an open look at the rim. It is almost inevitable.

It is the reason why the pick and roll is almost as old as the peach basket itself and continues to be deployed by everyone from dad coaches in youth sports, to Coach K and on to the elite coaches in the NBA.

Which brings us to today’s topic on the floundering UTSA Roadrunners, who rank last in points allowed and third-to-last in both field-goal and three-point percentage defense in Conference USA.

Yes, after defense was stressed since last summer and throughout the preseason workouts, members of the UTSA coaching staff have a right to feel some exasperation.

Keaton Wallace. UTSA beat North Texas 77-69 in a Conference USA game on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Senior guard Keaton Wallace has boosted the Roadrunners with inspired play on both ends of the floor for four years. Could he become even more effective with a few more trips to the free throw line per game? — Photo by Joe Alexander

Players likely are feeling some frustration themselves after a 1-5 start to the C-USA phase of the schedule. Do they continue to attack screen and roll? Do they try some other ploy?

What about double-teaming the post? The tactic worked fairly well in the first game at Louisiana Tech last week, but then it backfired some in the second meeting, leaving shooters open to hit from the perimeter.

And now, after losing twice in Louisiana, UTSA has returned home to face Southern Miss tonight and Saturday. Likely, some of the same problems UTSA has encountered all season defensively will crop up again this weekend.

But if I’m reading the Roadrunners right, I think they might take a crack at another strategy. I think they might ask their best offensive players, including Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace, to start attacking on the dribble a little more. Get them going to the bucket more.

UTSA coach Steve Henson said the team has worked the past two weeks on initiating more of that action offensively in an effort to make defenses work harder and, perhaps, foul more.

“We know that we’ve got to defend better,” Henson said. “But I still think that, offensively, we have a lot of room to improve. I really do. I think we can get easier shots … If we do that, we know that’ll help our defense.

Jacob Germany. UTSA beat North Texas 77-69 in a Conference USA game on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Center Jacob Germany is shooting 84.8 percent from the free throw line. But he’s taking only 2.5 per game. Seems the Roadrunners could get more production out of him if he was on the line more.. — Photo by Joe Alexander

“We tried to go all year the other way. We talked about defending at a certain level regardless of what’s happening on the other end. But, still, there’s something to be said for seeing that ball go through the net. It feeds your defensive energy. That’s kind of been our issue.

“We just don’t lock in and defend at a high enough level night in and night out, possession after possession after possession, to carry ourselves through those stretches where we’re not good offensively.”

In other words, you can’t always stop a good offensive player or a good offense. But if you can work those same players and get them in foul trouble, then, maybe they become less aggressive.

The ploy seems to have worked for UTSA’s opponents, who have outscored UTSA 211-157 at the free throw line this season. In fact, opponents have made more free throws this year than UTSA has attempted (209).

On average, the Roadrunners are taking only 16.07 free throws per game, to opponents’ 21.38. They’re making 12.07, to opponents’ 16.23.

Jordan Ivy-Curry. UTSA beat North Texas 77-69 in a Conference USA game on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA freshman Jordan Ivy-Curry has emerged as another player with dribble-drive capability for the Roadrunners, who are being outscored 16.2-12.1 at the free throw line this season. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Jackson and Wallace are both taking and making fewer free throws than they have in years past.

Jackson’s free-throw attempts are down — 5.68 to 3.16 per game — from last year to this year. His makes are also down, 4.84 to 2.41. As for Wallace, it’s the same thing. He attempted 3.87 at the line last year, compared to 2.61 right now. His makes have declined, 3.12-1.92.

Discussing his team’s offensive execution this week, Henson admitted that his team has been lacking the element of finishing possessions with drives toward the basket, which tend to lead to more frequent trips to the line.

Outside of Jackson, Wallace and freshman Jordan Ivy-Curry, UTSA just doesn’t have many players with that skillset.

Nevertheless, Henson seems determined to generate more action like that. He said that for the past few weeks, he’s tried to draw up some new things, “trying to create those alleys, trying to create opportunities to get down hill.”

Would he like to see Jackson and Wallace, his senior leaders, get a little more aggressive in that way?

“Yes,” the coach said. “Something has to precede that, though. The set itself has to clear out space. Or you need the roll guy, Jacob (Germany), needs to roll. You got to hit him on the roll, to attract some attention. You can’t just say, ‘Hey, Keaton and Jhivvan, you’ve got to be more aggressive.’

“You have to set that up with some movement, some rubs. You got to create some opportunities to get downhill.”

For Henson, sending his stars into the lane on a few more possessions, instead of watching them take tough threes, might not be the answer for all that ails his team.

But, with a third of the conference season in the books, it’s worth a try.

Who knows?

UTSA opponents might find it much tougher to score if they’re on the bench in foul trouble.

Last place? UTSA hosts Southern Miss, hoping to make amends

Steve Henson. UTSA beat North Texas 77-69 in a Conference USA game on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Steve Henson (right) hopes to get his team turned around this weekend after losing five of six to open the C-USA schedule. — Photo by Joe Alexander

As the last-place UTSA Roadrunners prepare to host the Southern Miss Golden Eagles this weekend, players and coaches are like sailors at sea, peering out over the bow at rolling waves crashing higher and higher on the side of the ship.

They have felt the winds gust and the rain sting their faces at times over the past few years, but nothing like what they have experienced lately.

The Roadrunners (5-8, 1-5 in Conference USA) are off to their rockiest start to a conference schedule in eight years. Veteran fans of the men’s basketball program need to flip through the pages of history to 2012-13, when their team opened with seven straight losses in the Western Athletic Conference, to find a tougher start.

In addition, UTSA has never been four games under .500 after six games in seven previous seasons in the C-USA. But it is notable that Coach Steve Henson started 2017-18 at 2-4 and finished his second year in the program with an 11-7 ledger in the conference.

Last week, the Roadrunners left town, coming off a home victory over North Texas, and lost twice in two days at Louisiana Tech. With little time to wring hands over seeing themselves in last place in the seven-team, C-USA West Division standings, they did what they always do, win or lose.

They went back to practice.

“I think our mindset is pretty good,” Henson said. “You know, disappointed that we didn’t play a little better. Realistic to know that we got to shore some things up. Got to play harder defensively. Got to execute better offensively. Got to shoot better shots.

“But (players) came in with the right mindset. We’ve had some good stretches of practice the last couple of days.”

A sense of urgency could be detected in a Wednesday afternoon zoom call, with junior forward Phoenix Ford talking about working through “a little” adversity as they fine tune for the Golden Eagles.

“It’s definitely a concern, but not too much of a concern where we’re worried or panicking, but there’s definitely a little adversity,” junior forward Phoenix Ford said. “Definitely didn’t expect to start the conference like this, for sure. Just have to bounce back and win the next ones.”

Coming up

Southern Miss at UTSA, Friday, 6 p.m.
Southern Miss at UTSA, Saturday, 3 p.m.

Records

Southern Miss 7-6, 3-3
UTSA 5-8, 1-5

UTSA hits 15 three-pointers and downs Southern Miss, 80-70

Byron Frohnen. UTSA beat Southern Miss 80-70 on Saturday for the Roadrunners' second straight Conference USA victory at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Byron Frohnen enjoyed another strong performance with nine points and eight rebounds as UTSA improved its conference record to 2-2. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The UTSA Roadrunners followed up their best game of the season with a victory, but it wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy coach Steve Henson.

Henson knows his team can play better than it did in downing the Southern Miss Golden Eagles, 80-70, Saturday afternoon at the Convocation Center.

Jhivvan Jackson. UTSA beat Southern Miss 80-70 on Saturday for the Roadrunners' second straight Conference USA victory at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jhivvan Jackson scored 23 points on 7 of 18 shooting after shaking off a pre-game knee issue. – Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA buried 15 three-point shots to make up for other issues in a grind-it-out, tougher-than-expected performance against a struggling program.

“Well, to be honest, we didn’t feel great about our practice yesterday or our shoot-around today,” Henson said. “Wasn’t terrible. Wasn’t terrible. But, you can’t have one good game and feel like you’ve arrived.

“I don’t think our guys had conscious bad thoughts. But it was noticeably a little different. Didn’t jump ’em in practice or in the shoot around the way we maybe should have.

“But, you could tell, we just weren’t quite focused.”

On Thursday night, the Roadrunners played well for most of the game in rolling to an 89-73 victory over the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, a team that arrived in San Antonio with a NET national rating of No. 59.

Against the Golden Eagles, rated No. 309, the Roadrunners had to scramble to win by double digits after allowing the lead to be trimmed to three twice, the last time with 6:28 remaining.

Fortunately for the Roadrunners, rated No. 209, they switched to a zone defense to thwart the Eagles at the end.

They also hit all eight free throws down the stretch, including six of six by Jhivvan Jackson, to put the visitors away.

Jackson, the second-leading scorer in the nation, produced 23 points and six rebounds to pace the Roadrunners. Keaton Wallace added 16 points and four assists.

As a team, the Roadrunners nailed 15 of 27 from behind the arc to give them 33 of 59 on the homestand.

Six players hit from deep, including little-used freshman Makani Whiteside, who made two of them in the second half.

Records

UTSA 8-9, 2-2
Southern Miss 4-13, 0-4

Coming up

UTSA travels to play at UTEP on Wednesday at 8 p.m. The two teams will play again in San Antonio next Saturday at 3 p.m.

Jackson’s adversity

Even with two victories in the past three days, Jackson endured a difficult week, in some respects.

In Thursday’s victory, he scored 37 points against the Bulldogs but tweaked his surgically-repaired knee on a fall in the second half.

Jackson said he was feeling it before the game against Southern Miss.

“My knee swelled up a little,” he said. “Other than that, once I step on that floor, it doesn’t matter what’s wrong with me. I’m going to play.

“We got the best trainer (Josh Modica) in the country. He helped me get loose. That’s why I got out here (for warm-ups) a little late.”

If physical pain wasn’t enough of a worry, Jackson also was concerned about family in Puerto Rico, where a series of earthquakes have rocked the Caribbean Island.

The latest hit Saturday morning.

Jackson said his family is OK. “They didn’t have power for a couple of days, but they’re good now,” he said. “I mean, just taking it one day at a time.”

A freshman’s day

After a series of strong practices by Whiteside early this week, he was due for some additional playing time.

Though he did not get off the bench against Louisiana Tech, the 6-foot-4 guard from California logged eight productive minutes against Southern Miss.

He pleased the coach with his defense and with his shot-making, a 2-for-2 showing on three-pointers in the second half.

“Coming in I was expecting to play a little, so I just tried to stay ready,” he said.

Whiteside has moved up in the guard rotation in the wake of an injury to Adokiye Iyaye, who is out 6-8 weeks with a broken right thumb.

“First of all, I’d like to say, I’m praying for Doke,” he said. “But truth be told, there are minutes to be had.”

A painful birthday

UTSA had a scare early in the second half when starting point guard Erik Czumbel, celebrating his birthday, was hit in the face early in the second half.

He had to come out so that trainers could stop the bleeding. Diagnosed with a broken nose, Czumbel did return to the game wearing a protective mask and even hit a three-pointer out of the corner.

Henson said he should be able to continue to practice and play.

First-half recap

Playing patient basketball, the Roadrunners built a 35-31 first-half lead. But in many respects, it was an uninspired showing, with the Golden Eagles out-rebounding the Roadrunners 17-12. Of the 17 boards, the visitors pulled down five on the offensive end.

Wallace kept UTSA ahead on the scoreboard by nailing five shots, including four threes, to lead the Roadrunners with 14 points. Jackson had 12.

Second-half notes

The Roadrunners weren’t quite right in the second half, either, giving up 48 percent shooting from the field. They also were foul prone, allowing the Golden Eagles to hit 14 of 16 at the line. But on offense, UTSA had much better balance, with nine different players scoring and five players making threes. Whiteside and Czumbel made two each.

Southern Miss routs UTSA, 81-48, in regular-season finale

The Southern Miss Golden Eagles knocked down 16 three pointers Saturday and blew out the UTSA Roadrunners 81-48 in the regular-season finale for both teams.

Playing at home in Reed Green Coliseum at Hattiesburg, Southern Miss held UTSA to 28.8 percent shooting in handing the Roadrunners their worst loss of the season.

Next stop for the Roadrunners is the Conference USA tournament in Frisco.

As the No. 4 seed, UTSA will get a first-round bye and will open play next Thursday at 6:30 p.m at The Ford Center.

Conference USA
Group 1 standings

Old Dominion 13-5, 23-8
Western Kentucky 11-7, 18-13
Southern Miss 11-7, 19-11
UTSA 11-7, 17-14
UAB 10-8, 18-13

Saturday’s scores

Southern Miss 81, UTSA 48
UAB 64, Old Dominion 50

Notable

Southern Miss held UTSA’s high-scoring duo of Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace to a combined 12 points. Wallace scored seven points and Jackson five. The Eagles limited Wallace to 2 of 14 shooting and Jackson to 2 of 15.

Quotable

“Keaton and Jhivvan’s shots were straight-on. Most of ’em straight on, and short. Some of ’em good shots. Some of ’em not. They totally distort what we’re trying to do offensively every time. (Southern Miss coach) Doc (Sadler) does a great job with their switching. Switching and double teaming. You got to be able to find the open guy. They make you make plays.” — UTSA coach Steve Henson.

UTSA to host Old Dominion on Feb. 28 in bonus play

The UTSA Roadrunners will get an 11-day break before opening Conference USA bonus play on Feb. 28 at home against Old Dominion, according to the C-USA schedule.

Tipoff is at 7 p.m., with the game telecast on the CBS Sports Network.

UTSA, playing in Group 1 of the C-USA’s new scheduling format, also will host the UAB Blazers before going on the road to face the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and the Southern Miss Golden Eagles.

UTSA schedule

Feb. 28 — (1) Old Dominion at (4) UTSA, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network

March 3 — (5) UAB at (4) UTSA, 3 p.m., CUSA TV

March 6 — (4) UTSA at (2) Western Kentucky, 6:30 p.m., beIN SPORTS

March 9 — (4) UTSA at (3) Southern Miss, 5 p.m., CUSA TV

C-USA Group 1

1) Old Dominion 11-3, 21-6

2) Western Kentucky 9-5, 16-11

3) Southern Miss 9-5, 17-9

4) UTSA 9-5, 15-12

5) UAB 8-6, 16-11

Notable

The Group 1 standings leader after bonus play is the C-USA regular-season champion. The top four teams after bonus play receive byes through the first round of the conference tournament.

UTSA versus the elite

Here is a recap of UTSA’s regular-season games against each of its four opponents in bonus play:

x-UAB 83, UTSA 73, at Birmingham, Ala., Jan. 19 – The Blazers took charge with 16-3 run to close the first half, followed by a 15-0 streak to open the second half

x-UTSA 74, Old Dominion 73, at San Antonio, Jan. 26 – The Roadrunners rocked the Bird Cage with a 25-6 run in the final 4:43 to erase an 18-point deficit.

x-Western Kentucky 96, UTSA 88, overtime, at Bowling Green Ky., Jan. 31 – Hilltoppers won in spite of 46 points from UTSA guard Jhivvan Jackson.

x-Southern Miss 78, UTSA 71, at Hattiesburg, Miss., Feb. 14 – Cortez Edwards, Tyree Griffin and Leoard Harper-Baker combined for 56 points, leading the Golden Eagles on a comeback from an early 23-10 deficit.

Southern Miss Golden Eagles hold off UTSA, 78-71

The Southern Miss Golden Eagles on Thursday night boosted their chances for a top-five finish in Conference USA with a 78-71 victory over the UTSA Roadrunners.

Trailing by 13 points early in the game at Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the Golden Eagles rallied behind guards Cortez Edwards and Tyree Griffin and forward Leonard Harper-Baker for their fifth straight win.

In the second half, Southern Miss built a 17-point lead, only to have UTSA cut it to three in the final minutes.

But, in response, Harper-Baker and Edwards scored on field goals inside of two minutes, and then Griffin hit both ends of a one-and-one with 42 seconds left for the key plays down the stretch.

Edwards led Southern Miss with 24 points on 11 of 17 shooting. He also had 9 rebounds and 5 assists.

Even though Keaton Wallace scored 27 and Jhivvan Jackson 25 for the Roadrunners, the Golden Eagles made them earn it, holding the tandem to a combined 15 of 41 from the field.

Jackson entered the game as the C-USA’s leading scorer and Wallace was third. It didn’t matter in the end, as UTSA remained winless in Hattiesburg at 0-6, including 0-3 under third-year coach Steve Henson.

UTSA will complete a two-game road trip Saturday at Louisiana Tech.

Records

UTSA 15-11, 9-4
Southern Miss 16-9, 8-5

Title chase

Old Dominion 10-3, Western Kentucky 9-4, UTSA 9-4, North Texas 8-5, Southern Miss 8–5.

Notable

Trailing 23-10 early, Southern Miss went on an extended run. The Golden Eagles finished the first half, 22-8, to take a one-point intermission lead. They kept applying the pressure after the break, riding a 29-13 streak to a 61-44 lead. Griffin, a 5-10 senior from New Orleans, scored 11 in the stretch.

Quotable

‘We got off to a good start, really were guarding ’em in the halfcourt … First half was about turnovers. Every time we made a turnover, they scored. They didn’t have anything going in the halfcourt. In the second half, they scored trip after trip after trip. Built the lead. Just whooped us,” UTSA coach Steve Henson told the team’s radio broadcast.

Added Henson: “They beat our man. They beat our 3-2. They beat our 2-3. We didn’t have any other defenses to go to. Finally responded a little bit. Cut into the lead. Took better care of the ball in the second half. Big thing was, turnovers in the first half and them whoopin’ us and kinda punkin’ us there in the second half.”

Coming up

After Saturday’s games, the conference will divide teams into three groups and start bonus play. Teams will play four games within their groups to complete the regular season. Details on the groupings and the schedule will be announced Saturday night. Old Dominion, Western Kentucky and UTSA are solidified in the top group.