New in The JB Replay: Forward Emmanuel Ewuzie and the St. Mary's Rattlers gave the UTSA Roadrunners all they could handle Monday night. UTSA won 66-59 in a game that mirrored most of the 13 others in a series that has spanned 38 years — down to the wire. https://t.co/hyCDEtJChY pic.twitter.com/aIOZVZIuo8
— Jerry Briggs (@JerryBriggs) November 15, 2022
Coming off a 20-point loss to the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders, the UTSA Roadrunners entered their third game of the season Monday night needing a defensive spark, some solid execution on the offensive end and a quality shooting performance.
All of that, leading to a run-away victory, would have been nice. But in keeping with history in a rivalry that dates back nearly 40 years, the NCAA Division II-level St. Mary’s University Rattlers showed up at the Convocation Center with other ideas.
Division I UTSA survived a shaky start and a hand-wringing finish to polish off San Antonio-based St. Mary’s, 66-59.
Fortunately for the Roadrunners, guard Japhet Medor, center Jacob Germany and freshman guard DJ Richards made a few plays at the end to salvage the victory. UTSA coach Steve Henson said in his postgame commentary that “there weren’t a ton of positives” to the performance.
“I can’t spin too positively,” the coach said. “St. Mary’s is good. I got a lot of respect for what they do and how tough they are. How well-coached they are. They did some things to keep it right there (within their reach).”
“The positive,” Henson added, “was that we found a way to get the win.”
St. Mary’s (0-2) played the game as an exhibition, so it didn’t count on the Rattlers’ record. But the game did count for UTSA (2-1) on a night when the Roadrunners were trying to bounce back from a poor performance in Corpus Christi.
Though the Roadrunners traveled to the Coastal Bend last Friday, it was hardly a day at the beach. UTSA held an eight-point lead in the second half on a 23-win, Division I NCAA tournament team from last year. After that, Corpus Christi romped 47-19 in the final 17 minutes to win 75-55.
As a result, Roadrunners guard John Buggs III fielded a few questions in the wake of the St. Mary’s game about the team’s inconsistency. His answer was the same. At times, he said, UTSA goes through “stretches” when things go wrong on both ends of the floor.
“We have to limit those windows,” Buggs said.
Added Henson, “We have a lot of work to do. A lot of work.”
The Roadrunners, who were shooting 37.8 percent from the field coming into the night, finished 25 of 55 for 45.5 percent. Hitting only 20.3 percent from three in their first two games combined, they were better in that department, as well, making 8 of 19 for 42.1 percent. Germany and Buggs led the team with 14 points apiece.
It’s a good thing that UTSA made some improvement, because its next opponent — the defending Sun Belt Conference champion Texas State Bobcats — will be dangerous. The Bobcats are set to pay a visit to the Convocation Center on Thursday night.
“Texas State is really good,” Henson said. “They got great identity-culture. You know they’re going to defend really aggressively. They’re super solid defensively. Offensively, they typically run great movement, great motion … They had a big win at Rhode Island a couple of nights ago.
“They’ve got a couple of really big challenges for us. The emphasis will be defending and rebounding. Offensively, we’re going to be a young work in progress. Still think we’ve got the potential to be a pretty good offensive team in time. Defensively, we’ve got to take some steps.”
For St. Mary’s, the game could serve as a springboard into the rest of its pre-Lone Star Conference schedule. The Rattlers were beaten twice in Colorado last weekend. They lost 87-65 to Colorado School of Mines on Friday and then came up short, 60-56, falling to Regis College, Colo.
Against the Roadrunners, the Rattlers seemed to hit their stride. Forward Emmanuel Ewuzie had a big night with 14 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots. Guard Ryan Leonard finished with 11 points and seven rebounds. Off the bench, Diego Gonzalez scored seven and John Dawson six.
St. Mary’s came out strong, executing the offense and scoring the game’s first five points. The Rattlers kept it going for most of the first half, pushing the lead to as many as eight with 2:47 remaining.
At that point, UTSA started to creep back into the game. The Roadrunners scored seven in a row at the end of the half and then roared away on a 14-0 run to start the second.
Buggs ignited the second-half surge, hitting a couple of threes and a two. Forward Josh Farmer, who made his first start of the season, capped the streak with a wild play. After Farmer missed a dunk, Richards rebounded it. Farmer finally put it in the hoop for a 46-33 lead.
Down the stretch, the Rattlers wouldn’t fold.
They continued to scrap for rebounds and dive on the floor for loose balls. They hit some difficult shots in traffic. UTSA was also energized. They hit the boards with much more aggression. UTSA also got a big call when St. Mary’s foward Tyler Caron made a shot but had it waved off for charg
On the other end, Richards hit a three for a 10-point lead. Undaunted, St. Mary’s kept coming. The Rattlers chipped away and, with 1:01 remaining, Ewuzie hit a free that pulled the visitors to within two.
From there, Medor orchestrated the finish for the Roadrunners. He worked hard against the Rattlers’ trapping defense, and the Roadrunners survived, going on a 5-0 run to finish the game. Germany knocked down a shot and hit a free throw. On a free-throw miss, Richards snared a rebound and was fouled, sinking both with 30 seconds left to seal it.
St. Mary’s 0-2
With the victory, UTSA improved to 11-3 all-time in the series against St. Mary’s. The series between San Antonio-based universities started in 1984 as the “Mayor’s Challenge Cup.” Played initially in a downtown arena in the 1980s, the games have always been close. Only four of the 14 games have been decided by margins of more than 10 points.
Texas State at UTSA, Thursday, 7 p.m.
Huston-Tillotson at St. Mary’s, Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
— Jerry Briggs (@JerryBriggs) November 15, 2022
Sabally to Aleu — for two
— Jerry Briggs (@JerryBriggs) November 15, 2022
The UTSA Roadrunners (1-1) are back home tonight to play the St. Mary’s Rattlers (0-2). The game is an exhibition for NCAA Division II St. Mary’s and won’t count on the Rattlers’ record. Here is a look at the series between the two programs, which dates back to the 1983-84 season.
Series at a glance
2/6/84 — UTSA, 69-61
1/21/85 — St. Mary’s, 88-81
1/13/86 — UTSA, 76-67
1/26/87 — St. Mary’s, 68-55
1/20/88 — UTSA, 84-74
1/24/89 — UTSA, 58-48
12/12/89 — UTSA, 79-52
1/18/90 — UTSA, 63-58
1/21/91 — St. Mary’s, 65-46
12/7/91 — UTSA, 62-52
11/25/00 — UTSA, 61-55
12/4/02 — UTSA, 81-67
11/29/21 — UTSA, 75-65
The early games in the series were played downtown at the HemisFair Arena, a building that has been demolished to make way for new construction. (The old arena sat on property that is now part of the Convention Center complex.) The game in December 2002 was played at the Alamodome. The games in November 2000 and November 2021 were played at the UTSA Convocation Center.
That’s a fact
The Roadrunners haven’t shot the ball well in their first two games, in a 74-47 victory over Division III Trinity last Monday or in a 75-55 loss at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi last Friday.
Three-point shooting has been a particular concern. UTSA hit only 5 of 30 from behind the arc in the opener and 7 of 29 last Friday at Corpus Christi. For the season, that makes them 12 of 59 for 20.3 percent. UTSA field goal shooting is a cool 37.8 percent — 48 of 127.
Defensively, it’s also a mixed bag. The Roadrunners had been playing good defense until the second half against the Islanders,who shot 56 percent and exploded for 50 points after intermission.
Dhieu Deing did a little bit of everything on the basketball floor Monday night. He scored. He rebounded. He created on the dribble.
The multi-talented, 6-foot-5 forward even took a charge in crunch time that helped fend off a late rally, allowing the UTSA Roadrunners to surge past the St. Mary’s Rattlers 75-65 at the Convocation Center.
Is the former North Carolina prep standout now a candidate to sell soft drinks and popcorn at halftime?
How about issuing him a trombone and letting him rip off a few solos the next time the UTSA band comes out to play?
After Deing produced a season-high 27 points and 11 rebounds against the Rattlers, UTSA center Jacob Germany marveled at the showing.
“Oh, he’s all over the place,” Germany said. “I think he had, what, 27 and 11 and four (assists)? He’s just doing everything. We wear these heart monitors (in practice), and his heartbeat is always the highest, because he’s always moving all over the place.
“That’s what he brings for us, and you know, we need that every game.”
On Deing’s defensive gem, St. Mary’s was trailing by six points with 1:33 remaining when forward Mamady Djikine posted up on the left block and tried to wheel into the lane for a shot.
Taking the brunt of the blow in his chest, Deing fell backward. Foul on Djikine, was the call.
“I seen the whole game that he was putting his shoulder down, so I read it,” Deing said.
On the other end, UTSA freshman guard Christian Tucker beat the defense to the rim, drew a whistle and knocked down two free throws with 1:16 left for a decisive eight-point spread. St. Mary’s never got closer than six the rest of the way.
For the Roadrunners, there wasn’t so much jubilation in the locker room as there was just a good feeling about surviving in what was sometimes an ugly game.
Besides Deing, the principals in the victory were Germany (18 points, four rebounds) and Cedrick Alley, Jr., (12 rebounds), not to mention a blue-collar effort off the bench from Lachlan Bofinger, Phoenix Ford, Erik Czumbel and Tucker.
Guard Caleb Jordan led four Rattlers with 17 points, but in a nod to the Roadrunners’ defense, it took him 18 shots to get there.
As a team, St. Mary’s managed only 34.7 percent shooting, including 28.9 percent in the first half when UTSA built a 37-25 lead. During one stretch in the first half, the Roadrunners flummoxed the Rattlers with a scheme that allowed only one field goal in 12 attempts.
St. Mary’s 1-2
Thursday — UTSA at Grand Canyon, Ariz.
UTSA senior guard Darius McNeill, with a walking boot on his right foot, did not play. Coach Steve Henson said McNeill likely won’t be able to play at Grand Canyon. “He’s going to be out for a little while,” the coach said.
Bofinger also hurt his right ankle in the second half and did not return. “He wanted (to go back in the game,” Henson said. “Just a little swelling. He’s incredibly tough. He was trying to get back in there and (trainer) Josh (Modica) shut him down. I anticipate him being a little sore tomorrow. (But) I think he’ll be able to practice.”
Deing has scored 53 points in his last two games. During that stretch, he has hit 17 of 32 from the field for 53.1 percent … He has scored 20 or more in three of his last four … With the victory, the Roadrunners improved to 10-3 against St. Mary’s, a Division II program in San Antonio, and they also completed a six-game homestand with a 4-2 record, including four wins in the last five.
“So many weird plays (tonight). So many things we need to do better. Even at halftime, there was kind of a weird vibe. We’re up 12. Our guys should be in there feeling good. The guys knew we didn’t play the right way in certain areas of the game. St. Mary’s was good. We weren’t surprised … (Our) turnovers came in bunches. We didn’t handle their press very well. They pounded us inside. Just an uncomfortable game from a lot of standpoints.” — UTSA coach Steve Henson
By the end of the half, UTSA built a 37-25 lead. But St. Mary's had its moments. Here, forward Mamady Djikine rejects a dunk attempt by Dhieu Deing of the Roadrunners. https://t.co/hyCDEtJ4sq pic.twitter.com/VESITjiJyv
— Jerry Briggs (@JerryBriggs) November 30, 2021
The UTSA Roadrunners will host the St. Mary’s University Rattlers tonight at the Convocation Center in the resumption of a series that once stood out as a highlight of the local college basketball schedule.
Tipoff is at 7 p.m.
UTSA senior guard Darius McNeill, who injured his foot in a game last week, isn’t on the floor as both teams are going through warm-ups.
The two schools started playing in the 1980s, downtown, at the old HemisFair Arena in a game billed as ‘The Mayor’s Challenge Cup.’ Early games in the series drew well, with one meeting attracting a crowd of better than 7,000.
UTSA and St. Mary’s haven’t played since 2002. The Roadrunners lead the series, 9-3.
Once a powerhouse in the NAIA and a 1989 national champion in that division, the Rattlers now compete in the Lone Star Conference in NCAA Division II.
Jim Zeleznak is in his 17th year as head coach. The associate head coach is Bubba Meyer, the son of Herman ‘Buddy’ Meyer, the coach who led the Rattlers to the ’89 national title. The elder Meyer is in the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame.
St. Mary’s 1-1
UTSA, an NCAA Division I program since its inception in 1981, will meet St. Mary’s to close out a six-game homestand. The Roadrunners are 3-2 so far.
For the season, UTSA is 4-2 at home overall and 0-1 on the road. The Roadrunners are 3-2 against Division I teams, 0-1 against Division II and 1-0 against Division III.
UTSA opened the stretch at home against another LSC team, the Texas A&M-Commerce Lions, who upset the Roadrunners 65-62 on a 3-point, buzzer beater.
The Roadrunners followed with a pair of victories, downing the Denver Pioneers, 78-64, and IUPUI Jaguars, 60-57, before falling 77-58 to the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders. In the Roadrunners’ last game, they rebounded on Nov. 24 to defeat the Lamar Cardinals, 79-73.
UTSA is still looking to find a consistent offensive rhythm. The Roadrunners are shooting 38.3 percent from the field and 28.2 percent on 3-pointers.
Dhieu Deing and Jordan Ivy-Curry lead the team, averaging 16 points per game apiece, but both are shooting less than 40 percent.
Former Brandeis High School standout Kobe Magee is the Rattlers’ leading scorer, averaging 22 points. Magee is the only St. Mary’s player to have faced the Roadrunners, having played in five games against UTSA as a member of the UTEP Miners.
If you execute a Google search for the city of Osijek, Croatia, you may come across a video showing aerial views of a picturesque community built on the river Drava, which cuts a wide swath through the town and meanders out across a marshy terrain in the distance.
Within Osijek itself, a paved promenade runs adjacent to the river. Bells ring out from a few quaint, spire-topped churches, which stand tall above clusters of four- and five-story buildings. This is the hometown of promising UTSA basketball newcomer Luka Barisic.
In Texas terms, Osijek is about the size of New Braunfels. Its population is pegged at anywhere from 84,000 to 88,000, according to various websites. But if you think Barisic is homesick or awestruck about living in a metropolitan area in South Texas, so far away from his European roots, think again.
The 21-year-old junior forward is a young man who has been on his own, away from home, for the past six years. In high school, Barisic attended a private academy in Zagreb, Croatia. For the past two years, he has lived and played junior college basketball in Freeport, Ill., about a two-hour drive to Chicago.
“My home town (of Osijek) is probably less than 100,000 (population),” Barisic said. “When you see Chicago, it’s probably like all of Croatia, because it’s like, four million people. It’s a big city. (It) gives you a good view of where you are, that you are in the U.S.”
In July, he moved to San Antonio and started classes at UTSA. On Tuesday night, he likely will get a starting nod at forward in the Roadrunners’ season opener at Oklahoma. For Barisic, a former small-town kid from central Europe, it will be a major moment in his life.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “My team, we are like, ready and waiting for Tuesday.”
Also ready is Danko Barisic, 34, the ball player’s proud older brother. Some 15 years ago, Danko left Croatia to play in the United States. He spent two years at Weber State and two more at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. Danko likes his brother’s chances to succeed.
“He’s really a good player,” said Danko Barisic, a 2008 St. Mary’s graduate and a Boerne resident. “He’s very humble, but he’s also a confident kid. Anyone who comes in contact with him know he is wise beyond his years.
Self-sufficient and motivated
“He’s been living away from home since he was 15 years old, when he started playing for a basketball academy back home. He’s self-sufficient and motivated. I think he’s going to do well.”
In the past year, UTSA coach Steve Henson reeled in a top-notch recruiting class featuring four-star center Jacob Germany, Barisic and others. If Barisic gets the starting nod against OU, as expected, he will be the only one of the incoming class to do so.
“Luka is certainly a three-point threat,” Henson said. “He’s also a very good passer.”
Henson said UTSA will miss forward Nick Allen, a four-year player for the Roadrunners who has played out his eligibility. But the coach hopes that newcomers such as Barisic, Germany and Phoenix Ford can step in to fill the void.
Barisic, who carries 240 pounds on a 6-foot-10 frame, has a unique skill-set that attracted interest from several NCAA Division I programs.
“We knew he was a good passer in the post,” Henson said. “(But) he passes it better from the perimeter than we anticipated. (He’s) a highly-skilled guy. He’s not the most athletic guy. If we’re going to compare him to Nick (Allen), he’s not as quick. He’s not as defensive minded.
“But, certainly, we hope we can offset that with just his high skill level. Pretty high IQ as well. So, he’s going to have a huge role for us.”
Honing advanced skills
Barisic developed an all-around game years ago in competition against older players, his brother said.
“He had always played with guys a little older, handling the ball on the outside,” Danko Barisic said. “His coaches had the foresight to develop that part of his game. They let him develop his skills on the outside early on. Handling the ball. Shooting the three.”
After Henson saw Luka Barisic play in the national junior college tournament in 2018, a scholarship offer was tendered.
But the family waited, and other phone calls started to come in. They came from Drake, the University of San Diego, Stephen F. Austin and Southern Illinois, the player’s older brother said. Barisic also took an unofficial visit to Minnesota, a power program in the Big Ten.
He eventually signed with UTSA in the spring this year.
“I was talking to a lot of coaches, to a lot of schools, some Big Ten schools,” Luka Barisic said. “But I was not impressed with some schools. What coach Henson presented was very good for me. So, I decided to come here.
“I think it’s a great program that (can) develop me, to play and enjoy the game of basketball.”
A family feel matters
Henson said he figured that with the ball player’s older brother living in the area, UTSA would have a good chance to sign him. Barisic didn’t discount the idea that having family within 30 miles of campus was a positive.
“Of course, that was some plus,” the ball player said. “But that wasn’t something that was the most important for my decision.”
Barisic has played at a high level for the past two years. In the summer of 2018, he made the under-18 Croatia National Team. In 2018-19, he averaged 17.9 points and 6.8 rebounds at Highland (Ill.) Community College and made third-team NJCAA All-American.
He said he liked the feel of the UTSA program when he came to visit. He said it felt sort of like home.
“One of the most important things about sport in general is chemistry,” Barisic said. “And, right now, I can tell you that we got great chemistry in the locker room. We’re like a big family. I think that is very important to us, and that it will bring good results.”