Deja vu? Not quite, as UTSA rolls late to beat UTEP, 86-70

Atem Bior. UTSA beat UTEP 86-70 on Saturday at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Forward Atem Bior produced a career-high 13 points and pulled down seven rebounds as the Roadrunners improved their record in Conference USA to 3-3. – Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Steve Henson was grinning slightly as he walked around the perimeter of a media scrum and moved into position for his post-game interview session Saturday afternoon.

Before taking a single question, he had one declaration to make.

Steve Henson. UTSA beat UTEP 86-70 on Saturday at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Steve Henson said it felt good to make enough plays at the end to beat the UTEP Miners. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“Fire away,” Henson said. “A dollar for the first one that says, ‘Was that (game) just like Wednesday?’ Yes.”

True enough.

The teams were the same — the UTEP Miners against Henson’s Roadrunners. The flow of the game was also about the same, with the Miners executing a thrilling second-half rally for the second time in four days.

But, with all due respect, this one was different in an important way.

The Roadrunners won this one, even though they did fritter away most of a 23-point lead before steadying themselves at the end to nail down an 86-70 victory over the Miners.

With the decision, the Roadrunners improved to 8-1 at home and gained a measure of redemption after blowing a 24-point lead and then losing 80-77 to the Miners in overtime at El Paso.

After the game in West Texas, the Roadrunners returned to San Antonio in a funk, having squandered their second golden opportunity in two weeks to win on the road in Conference USA.

Coming home, they knew they had to make amends.

“Just glad our guys bounced back the way they did,” Henson said. “Had two good days of preparation. Weren’t real long practices, but we worked real hard on keeping our legs fresh and making a few adjustments.

Jacob Germany. UTSA beat UTEP 86-70 on Saturday at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Freshman center Jacob Germany went 4 for 4 from the field, including a highlight-reel dunk. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“Came out and re-established what we’d established in the first half (in El Paso).”

In the first half at El Paso, UTSA looked very good.

After that, everything unraveled, as the Miners roared from behind with separate runs of 17-0 and 8-0 en route to the biggest comeback in school history and the biggest in NCAA Division I this season.

Less than 72 hours later, both teams tipped off in San Antonio, and a season-high crowd of 1,684 fans watched curiously as deja vu started to set in.

With 61 percent shooting, the Roadrunners bolted to a 48-31 halftime lead, and then they emerged from the dressing room after intermission with equal intensity.

They continued to apply pressure on the Miners, hiking the advantage to 62-39 when Atem Bior scored on a bucket in the paint.

At that point, just as they did a few nights ago, the Roadrunners got careless with the ball, started turning it over at an alarming rate and allowed the Miners to rally.

Nevil Shed was at Saturday's UTSA vs. UTEP men's basketball game. Shed is a basketball legend in both San Antonio and El Paso.

Texas basketball legend Nevil Shed takes in Saturday’s game at the Bird Cage. He played for the 1966 NCAA champion Miners of Texas Western College (now UTEP) and later became an assistant coach and an administrator at UTSA. – Photo by Joe Alexander

UTEP capitalized on five turnovers, blitzing the home team with a stunning 19-2 run over the next five minutes.

All of a sudden, in a game that looked lost, the Miners had life — down by six with 7:25 remaining.

“To be honest, it felt worse tonight, than it did on Wednesday,” Henson said of the UTEP comeback. “On Wednesday, it wasn’t like we totally lost our composure.

“Tonight, it was. We were throwing that ball around, making weak plays. It was very, very similar.

“…What happened (in El Paso) was in our minds a little bit. So, yeah, the wheels came off. But, we regrouped and finished the game better.”

Aided by big plays from Jhivvan Jackson, Keaton Wallace, Luka Barisic and Makani Whiteside, the Roadrunners constructed a 17-6 run to put the game away.

A couple of Jackson free throws with 1:54 remaining capped the streak and widened the lead to 81-64.

Records

UTEP 11-8, 2-4
UTSA 9-10, 3-3

Coming up

Winless on the road in the C-USA at 0-3, UTSA plays next at North Texas (on Thursday) and at Rice (next Saturday.) Both with a tip off at 7 p.m.

By the numbers

UTEP — Bryson Williams produced 21 points on 9 of 17 shooting, 7 rebounds. He had 34 points Wednesday night. Souley Boum scored 18 points. Not counting Williams, the Miners hit only 16 of 53 shots from the field (30.1 percent). Guard Daryl Edwards, who hurt the Roadrunners in El Paso, scored only three on 1 of 10 shooting.

UTSA — It’s notable that the Roadrunners beat a good team on a day when they made only six three-point shots. Known for their long-distance artistry, they were 6 of 20 from three. They made up for it with strong play from big men Atem Bior (13 points, 7 rebounds), along with Jacob Germany and Luka Barisic (both with 9 points).

Jackson and Wallace

The highest-scoring tandem in Division I combined for 44 points. Jackson produced 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Wallace scored 21, and also had eight rebounds, three assists and two steals. Jackson was off the mark with his shooting touch (5 of 14), including a missed layup late in the game, but he sank 12 of 12 at the line. Wallace hit 8 of 18 from the field.

First-half recap

Wallace scored 16 points and Bior came up big with 11 points and five rebounds, leading the Roadrunners to a 48-31 advantage at the break. UTSA played strong defense, limiting the Miners to 35.3 percent shooting. UTSA also won the battle of the boards, 23-16. On the offensive end, the Roadrunners sizzled at 61.3 percent. UTSA hit eight of its last nine shots before intermission.

Second-half summary

After the Miners pulled to within six, Barisic stopped the run with a three-point play. Later, the Miners had it down to nine when Whiteside nailed a three from the arc to make it a 12-point game with 4:30 remaining. From there, UTSA never allowed UTEP to cut the lead under 10. Jackson made sure of it by hitting six of six at the free throw line in the last two minutes.

Trailing by 24 points, UTEP rallies past UTSA in overtime, 80-77

Junior forward Bryson Williams exploded for 34 points, and the UTEP Miners rallied from 24 points down to beat the UTSA Roadrunners 80-77 in overtime Wednesday night in Conference USA basketball.

UTSA built a 42-28 lead at halftime, extended it to 54-30 with 14:43 remaining in regulation and then couldn’t hold on at the Don Haskins Center in El Paso.

“There’s going to be so many things we’re going to look at, and second-guess every single decision we made there,” UTSA coach Steve Henson told the team’s radio broadcast. “We were up 24 … and started turning it over and couldn’t get stops.

“(Against Williams) we went zone and (we) liked that for a few possessions, and they kept pounding it into him regardless of what defense we were in. Yeah, it’s tough. Really tough.”

With the victory, UTEP snapped a five-game losing streak to UTSA in the series between C-USA rivals. It was the first victory for the Miners over the Roadrunners since Jan. 21, 2017.

The loss kept UTSA winless on the road in the C-USA (0-3) this year.

In two of the losses — at Florida International and at UTEP — the Roadrunners squandered perfectly good chances to win in regulation, only to collapse and then lose in the first overtime.

Scoring leaders

UTSA — Jhivvan Jackson 29, Keaton Wallace 26.
UTEP — Bryson Williams 34, Daryl Edwards 18.

Records

UTEP 11-7, 2-3
UTSA 8-10, 2-3

Coming up

UTEP at UTSA, 3 p.m. Saturday

First-half recap

The Roadrunners outscored the Miners 20-6 in the paint and forged a 22-17 lead on the boards en route to a commanding 42-28 advantage at intermission. Down by three points early, UTSA went on a 17-2 tear behind Jackson to take charge of the game. Later, UTEP rallied to within six. But Wallace exploded for the Roadrunners, who outscored the Miners 14-6 in the last six minutes

Second-half summary

Luka Barisic hit a bucket inside and knocked down two from three-point range as UTSA scored 12 of the first 14 points after intermission.

After that, the Miners slowly started to get back into it. With the Roadrunners committing a few unforced turnovers, Williams posted up on the other end and started hitting shots, even inside the zone. Williams scored 20 in the second half on 8 for 12 shooting from the field 4 for 4 at the line.

Both teams had a chance to win it in the final minute but couldn’t score. For UTSA, Wallace was called for a charge. On the other end for UTEP, Eric Vila misfired on a three and Nigel Hawkins couldn’t hit from close range.

Overtime

Jackson hit a jumper and connected on a pair of free throws as UTSA started fast and took a one-point lead. But Williams answered with a jumper to make it 75-74 with 2:21 remaining. The Miners scored on their next two possessions, and the Roadrunners never led again. With UTSA down by two, Jackson and Wallace both misfired on threes in the final seconds.

UTSA brings the intensity in preparation for Southern Miss

Luka Barisic. UTSA beat Louisiana Tech 89-73 in Conference USA on Thursday at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Luka Barisic scored a career high 16 points Thursday night in UTSA’s 89-73 victory over Louisiana Tech. – Photo by Joe Alexander

A day after the UTSA Roadrunners played their best game of the season, they did not rest.

They came in to practice, focused and intense, in an afternoon workout at the Convocation Center.

Byron Frohnen. UTSA beat Louisiana Tech 89-73 in Conference USA on Thursday at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Senior Byron Frohnen had nine points and 10 rebounds against the Bulldogs. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“It was good,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said Friday. “We had some bumps and bruises. Wanted to make sure we were real specific about what we did today (with) sessions very short and intense. I think we accomplished what we needed to.

“Hoping to come in here, feeling really fresh tomorrow.”

The Roadrunners (7-9, 1-2) hope to sweep a two-game Conference USA homestand when they host the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (4-12, 0-3) Saturday.

Tipoff is at 3 p.m.

Southern Miss, a program in transition under first-year coach Jay Ladner, has lost three straight and five of six.

UTSA also got off to a bumpy start in conference play, losing last week at both Florida Atlantic and Florida International.

But on Thursday night at the Convo, the Roadrunners finally started to look like the team that had been pegged for second place in the C-USA preseason poll.

They won easily against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, bagging an 89-73 victory.

Reporting to practice Friday, the players brought a business-like attitude.

“Again, I kept telling our guys, how good I think LA Tech is right now, prior to the game and a day afterward,” Henson said. “You know, it was one of the bigger wins we had, when you look at the analytics and the KenPom numbers and all that.

“LA Tech is playing at a very high level. So, we did some good things in the game. But our guys know, it’s just a home game. That’s all it is.

“Having given one away (at Florida International), you certainly can’t come in relaxed. You got to back it up with a good effort tomorrow.”

Keaton Wallace. UTSA beat Louisiana Tech 89-73 in Conference USA on Thursday at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Keaton Wallace is averaging 16.7 points on the season. He’s also producing 4.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.8 steals. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Against LA Tech, UTSA got a monster game from Jhivvan Jackson (37 points) and also solid complementary performances by Luka Barisic, Keaton Wallace and Byron Frohnen.

“It was a good game for us, because we were a little knocked down from those losses in Florida,” Barisic said. “So, it was a great win for us. A great feeling.”

Barisic, averaging 7.3 points for the season, scored a season-high 16 points on 6 of 8 shooting.

The 6-foot-9 forward from Croatia hit a season-high four three-pointers in six attempts.

“I got open shots,” Barisic said. “I have to make those if we want to win.”

Jackson, a 6-foot junior from Puerto Rico, continues to enjoy a remarkable season with a consistent string of performances, which includes six scoring games in the 20s, six in the 30s and one in the 40s.

He’s averaging 26 points per game, which ranks second in the nation behind Markus Howard of Marquette (26.8.)

‘Bad Bird’ call: Henson hopes fans turn out for LA Tech at UTSA

Steve Henson. Old Dominion beat UTSA 65-64 on Thursday night in a Conference USA game at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Steve Henson on Wednesday thanked the fans for their continued support even through a slow start. – File photo by Joe Alexander

Coming off a lost week in Florida and preparing to host the powerful Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, UTSA coach Steve Henson issued an appeal to the Roadrunners Nation.

He said Wednesday that he’d like to see as many UTSA supporters as possible attend Conference USA home games on Thursday night against Louisiana Tech and on Saturday afternoon against Southern Miss.

“It’s early on in the race,” Henson said, “but we know that if we want to do something special, we’ve got to win our home games.

“We feel like LA Tech is one of the best teams (in the C-USA) … If they’re not the best team, at least they’re playing at that level, so it’s a very, very important game for us, to get back home.

“Home court advantage is really, really helpful.

“When the band is here, when the students are here, we feed off that. Because of the size of our building, it doesn’t have to be 100 percent full. We get that lower bowl filled up over there, it’s good.”

UTSA ranks 12th in the 14-team, C-USA in attendance, averaging only 899 (announced) through six home games.

Henson thanked the fans for their support even though the team hasn’t played as well as expected to this point.

“The season-ticket holders, the fans that sit behind us, have been out in pretty good force for us early in the year, particularly, considering we haven’t had a great start,” he said. “But our loyal supporters have been here.

“The students, we know they’ll get here when school starts. But, you know, they can come even when school’s not in session.”

With the first day of classes set for Jan. 21, UTSA students are still on break.

Nevertheless, Henson said he’s counting on the “Bad Birds,” a boisterous student group that sits behind the media on press row and travels to games in the local area, to give the team a lift.

“The Bad Birds helped us out at Texas State, I know that,” Henson said. “We just need a bunch more Bad Birds.”

Coming up

LA Tech (11-3, 2-0) at UTSA (6-9, 0-2), 6 p.m. Thursday

UTSA update

UTSA opened its C-USA schedule with losses last Thursday at Florida Atlantic (79-64) and at Florida International (90-83, overtime) … The Roadrunners allowed a three-point lead to slip away in the final eight seconds of regulation at FIU on Saturday night …

It is the first time in seven seasons of C-USA competition that UTSA has started conference with an 0-2 record…the Roadrunners haven’t started 0-3 since their one and only season in the Western Athletic Conference in 2012-13 …

Forward Eric Parrish practiced in team drills with the Roadrunners for the first time this week … UTSA is waiting on a ruling from the NCAA to determine whether he can play this season … Henson said guard Adokiye Iyaye is expected to miss 6-8 weeks with a broken right thumb … Forward Phoenix Ford went home to Florida to attend a funeral but is expected to be available against LA Tech.

Louisiana Tech update

LA Tech extended its winning streak to five games by routing Southern Miss at home (80-49) and on the road (78-50) to open conference last week … McNeese State transfer Kalob Ledoux comes off the bench to lead the Bulldogs in scoring (13.1). Starters DaQuan Bracey (12.6) and Amorie Archibald (11.9) also average in double figures … The Bulldogs are No. 62 in the NCAA’s NET ratings, the highest rating for a C-USA team.

The series

LA Tech leads UTSA 12-5 in the all-time series. However, under Henson, the Roadrunners hold a 3-2 edge against the Bulldogs over the past three seasons. All five games have been decided by 10 points or less … Here’s a look:

Feb. 16, 2019, at Ruston — Louisiana Tech 72, UTSA 67. DaQuan Bracey scores 23, and lead changes hands 13 times, with nine ties.

Feb. 24, 2018, at San Antonio — UTSA 74, Louisiana Tech 64. Deon Lyle scores 11 of his team-high 17 in the second half.

Jan. 4, 2018, at Ruston — UTSA 78, Louisiana Tech 76. Giovanni De Nicolao hits game-winning layup with one second left.

Feb. 11, 2017, at San Antonio — Louisiana Tech 72, UTSA 66. Erik McCree produces 25 points, 9 rebounds and a block for the Bulldogs.

Jan. 7, 2017, at Ruston — UTSA 69, Louisiana Tech 68. Jeff Beverly scores 27 and Giovanni De Nicolao hits a three in the last minute for the Roadrunners.

Jacob Germany continues to stir the discussion at UTSA

If you want to start a discussion at UTSA basketball practice, ask Coach Steve Henson about the upside potential of freshman center Jacob Germany.

Earlier this week, I pored over all the statistics, all my mental notes and a few videos of Germany, the high-rising, 6-foot-11 post from Oklahoma.

He’s not a starter yet.

Jacob Germany. Prarie View A&M beat UTSA 79-72 on Saturday night at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jacob Germany throws down a dunk against Prairie View A&M. – photo by Joe Alexander

But already, 13 games into his career, he’s become entrenched in the playing rotation, averaging 5.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks.

Germany’s also shooting 58.5 percent from the field.

How is this happening?

In my mental notes, I recall how UTSA has started to exploit his presence by throwing long, lob passes — some from beyond the three-point arc — that have resulted in ringing dunks or layups.

I also recall some moments of indecision, when he seems to struggle with the intensity of Division I basketball.

Such as, a sequence in a recent home game when Germany could have easily grabbed a loose ball, only to see an opposing guard wrestle it out of his grasp.

Finally, I recall a moment in UTSA’s practice Tuesday afternoon when he long-armed a rebound, jumped back awkwardly and then flicked in a 12-footer.

With the freshman from Oklahoma falling away, the ball swished.

It made me wonder. In a year or two, will he be rebounding those misses, passing out to the perimeter and then re-setting his feet to demand a pass back into the post?

Could he be a go-to threat in a few years, a player who would touch the ball on most set plays?

Henson, whose Roadrunners play at Florida Atlantic today at 6 p.m., artfully dodged the question.

But he did say this:

“He’ll become a bigger factor (in the offense), for sure. The stuff he does offensively, he’s so natural. He’s got great touch. He’s shooting I think 61 percent in his last eight games.

“He already does give us (an inside threat). He’s in that dunker’s spot. He makes it harder for people to help on penetration … they can’t help off him onto our shooters because he’s a threat there.

Henson said Germany doesn’t have the strength yet to be a “back-to-the-basket” guy this season. In addition, the coach said he’s not quite ready to be a “constant” shooter on the perimeter.

“But he does have the confidence — which is a big part of it — and the touch to do that,” Henson said. “He’s made a pretty good percentage of 15-foot shots, even in games. He does it in practice every, single day. So, I expect that is something he will do.”

As UTSA forges ahead in conference play, the coach said he wants to get the ball to Germany when he’s on the move to take advantage of his quickness and finesse.

Power moves? It might be a year or two before fans will see any of that.

“It’ll be a big off-season for him,” Henson said.

What else might we see from Germany this fall?

Well, so far, he’s shown he isn’t shy about playing in big moments.

For instance, when then 15th-ranked Utah State was trying to pull away from UTSA in the first half of a Nov. 18 road game, Germany came into the game and briefly turned the momentum back into the Roadrunners’ favor.

Ja - photo by Joe Alexander

Jacob Germany hails from Kingston High School in Kingston, Oklahoma.

“He impacted the game with his shot-blocking on drives,” Henson said. “He lost a couple of battles against his own guy. Again, that’s an experience factor. But he impacted the game by challenging penetration from the guards, blocking some shots and changing some others.

“We talk about that in our coaches’ meetings. We say, ‘Yea, this might not be a great game for him.’ And then he’ll go in there and just make things happen. It’s because his instincts are good. He’s not scared … He’s not afraid of the big stage.”

With 18 C-USA games looming, such a presence could come in handy.

Coming up

UTSA (6-7) at Florida Atlantic (8-5), 6 p.m. Livestream on ESPN Plus. Radio on The Ticket 760 AM.

UTSA hopes to re-write history against Oregon State

Keaton Wallace. UTSA beat UT-Permian Basin 98-55 on Sunday at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Keaton Wallace is averaging 22 points on 57.5 percent shooting in his last three games. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Ten years and one month have passed since the UTSA Roadrunners last won a men’s basketball game against a team from one of the NCAA’s power conferences.

It was Nov. 15, 2009 when the Roadrunners downed the Iowa Hawkeyes, 62-50, in a season opener at Iowa City.

Since then, UTSA has lost 20 straight against teams from the traditional football/basketball powers — namely, the Southeastern Conference, the ACC, the Big Ten, the Big 12 and the Pac-12.

Counting those five conferences, plus the basketball-dominant Big East, the streak is 21 games.

The Roadrunners will try to break those streaks this afternoon in Houston at the Toyota Center against the Pac-12’s Oregon State Beavers.

“That would be big time to beat a team like Oregon State,” UTSA guard Keaton Wallace said. “They’re a good team. I don’t think we’re going to go in and change anything or go in timid.

“We’re going to still play Roadrunner basketball.  We’re going to be confident going into the game, and, you know, we’re going to play hard.”

Led by forward Tres Tinkle, the unranked Beavers (8-1) have won six straight games. The Roadrunners (4-6) are playing well, having won four of five since an 0-5 start.

Included in the losses, UTSA fell 85-67 in the season opener at Oklahoma, a power opponent from the Big 12.

UTSA fell to 0-5 on Nov. 18 when it lost by 32 on the road at No. 15 Utah State.

Since then, the Roadrunners changed up the backcourt, bringing in Erik Czumbel to start at the point.  They also changed some things on how to free shooters on the perimeter.

The result has been better play from Wallace and an offense that has scored 264 points over its last three games.

UTSA coach Steve Henson said high expectations were not met earlier in the season, but he added that players are getting more comfortable with the system.

“We’re a pretty talented group,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “We did not get off to the start we envisioned … We’re still not where we hope to be.  Lately, we’re playing a lot better.

“We’re starting to figure some things out.  Even though we have a fairly veteran group, we also have some key new players. I think we’re starting to figure out how to use those guys.  They’re getting more comfortable.

“The last two games, we’re playing with confidence. We’re playing better, shooting the ball better … Hopefully, we’re making some progress.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jhivvan Jackson takes over NCAA Division I scoring lead

Jhivvan Jackson. UTSA beat A&M-Corpus Christi 89-67 on Tuesday night at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jhivvan Jackson hits a floater in the lane against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. – Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA guard Jhivvan Jackson has taken over the national lead in scoring, according to NCAA Division I basketball statistics released Monday afternoon.

Jackson, a 6-foot junior, moved up from third to first on the national charts after scoring 28 points Sunday at the Convocation Center in a 98-55 victory over UT Permian Basin.

A tight race for the NCAA scoring lead has developed early in the season, with Jackson (25.2 points per game) leading Marquette’s Markus Howard (25.1) and Northeastern’s Jordan Roland (25.0).

UTSA coach Steve Henson on Wednesday, Oct. 30. 2019 at the UTSA Convocation Center. The Roadrunners beat Texas A&M International 89-60 in an exhibition game. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Steve Henson. – photo by Joe Alexander

Jackson has surged lately, averaging 26.8 points during a streak of four wins in five games by the Roadrunners.

Armed with a dynamic array of skills, the native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, does a little bit of everything with the ball, shooting the 3-pointer, pulling up for medium-range floaters and driving to the basket with either hand.

Jackson averaged 18.4 points as a freshman two years ago. Last season, he led Conference USA in scoring at 22.9. This year, he’s scored 30 or more four times, including 33 on Dec. 7 at Texas State.

Moreover, the former standout at Euless Trinity High School is rebounding at a higher level, averaging 5.7 per game.

UTSA coach Steve Henson said after the UTPB game that Jackson’s improved work habits are starting to pay off.

“He’s obviously such an elite, talented scorer,” Henson said. “He was a guy, by the time he got here, he could go get 30 when the lights came on.

“But his habits are getting better. He’s becoming a better practice player. He’s starting to help his teammates more, which is absolutely huge.

“(We) called a play for him today, and he said, ‘Let’s run it for Knox (Hellums).’ Those are good signs for us.”

Basically, Jackson is maturing into a leader.

“He’s such a quick guy, he can chase down long rebounds,” Henson said. “He’s had a few big rebound games for us this year.”

In the past two seasons, Jackson and junior Keaton Wallace have emerged to lead a basketball renaissance at UTSA, pacing the team to a combined 37 victories.

With the two high-scoring guards returning, the Roadrunners were a trendy pick in the preseason to contend for a Conference USA title.

But after a 32-point loss at Utah State dropped the Roadrunners to 0-5, Jackson did some soul searching.

He told The JB Replay upon returning home from Utah that the Roadrunners would get better with an increased focus on defensive effort.

“It’s what we’re really emphasizing, just, getting a lot of stops,” Jackson said. “We have a chance to be a really good defensive team. But you know, we got to do it for 40 minutes. Not just in stretches. That’s the one thing we’ve been working on, is, getting stops.

“We know the offense is going to come. We’re not worried about offense. You know, anybody on our team can score. Once we get our defense together, really locking down people, we’re going to be good.”

Coming up

UTSA (4-6) vs. Oregon State (8-1), Wednesday, 4:30 p.m., at the Toyota Center in Houston.

UTSA adjusts to expanded three-point arc in Division I basketball

Keaton Wallace.UTSA beat Wiley College 90-68 on Friday in the Roadrunners' first home game of the 2019-20 men's basketball season. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA’s Keaton Wallace produced six points, five assists and four steals in the second half of a 90-68 victory last Friday against Wiley College. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Last season, if you hit a jump shot from 20 feet, 9 inches in an NCAA Division I college basketball game, court side wags would dutifully write down a “three” next to your name on the score sheet.

Your effort would be cheered by the fans and hailed by the public address announcer, who’d croon your name along with two additional words, “for threeeeeee!”

This season, a jumper from 20-9 just isn’t the same. It counts the same as a layup. It’s only a two.

To earn three points for your team this season, you must hit the jumper from an arc measured at 22-1 and 3/4 inches.

Division I programs have been practicing with the new distance since the middle of the summer, but it’s still an adjustment for everyone, including the UTSA Roadrunners, as the calendar turns to the last day of November.

The 1-5 Roadrunners are shooting just 29.1 percent from beyond the arc, which represents quite a drop from last year (34.4) and from two years ago (36.1).

But even with the decline in efficiency, UTSA isn’t changing anything in regard to its overall offensive philosophy.

Last Friday, the Roadrunners hoisted 31 threes and knocked down 11 of them in their home opener against Wiley College.

Over the last eight minutes of the game, they took seven and made four from long distance and buried the Wildcats 90-68 for their first victory of the season.

Tonight, UTSA hosts Prairie View A&M, and fans are certain to see much of the same.

The Roadrunners will continue to play what is called “inside-out” basketball, hoping to collapse the defense and then pass out to the open man.

If the open man is standing behind the arc, he’s expected to take it and make it.

Earlier in the season, with UTSA playing its first five games away from home, the perimeter shooting in general was poor for a number of reasons.

But UTSA guard Keaton Wallace said earlier this week that the additional 16 and 3/4 inches on the three-point arc wasn’t a good thing initially for a team that was also trying to figure out its point guard situation.

“I think it affected us a little bit, since we are stretched out on the floor a little bit more,” Wallace said. “I feel like, sooner or later, we’re going to start using it to our advantage.

“We do have guys on our team that can shoot the ball. I feel like it’s going to stretch out the defense a little bit more.

“Once we start putting things together, start jelling a little bit more, I think it’ll be an advantage to us and not a disadvantage.”

Wallace said UTSA players worked hard over the summer in an attempt to adjust to the new court dimensions.

“I feel everyone was locked in and trying to get their shot adjusted,” he said. “Some guys have that shot, you know, muscle memory. When they shoot it, they know it’s going in. It’s just second nature.

“Guys had to make slight adjustments. You know, jump higher. Flick (the wrist) a little harder. We worked on it pretty well.”

UTSA made one major personnel adjustment after the 0-5 start.

In an effort to get a better flow on the offense, the Roadrunners moved freshman Erik Czumbel into the starting lineup at point guard and sent Wallace back out to the wing.

Wallace continued to struggle a bit with his shot against Wiley, hitting only 5 of 14 shots, including 2 of 7 from three.

But the feeling is that Wallace, who is shooting 29.7 percent from the field and 26.5 from three, will come around eventually.

There’s also a feeling that other shooters also will flourish once they get a few home games under their belt.

UTSA coach Steve Henson isn’t so much concerned about the new three-point arc as he is about the execution of the offense. He just wants to see his players take better shots.

“Exactly,” he said. “And to do that, we’ve got to get some different types of penetration. Some dribble penetration. We got to get some guys rolling to the basket. We need to get the ball into the post and then back out.”

Czumbel could get start at point guard tonight for UTSA

UTSA guard Erik Czumbel is averaging 4.4 points in 12 minutes off the bench through five games. - photo by Joe Alexander

Erik Czumbel is averaging 4.4 points in 12 minutes off the bench through UTSA’s first five games. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Hoping to break through with their first victory of a new season, the UTSA Roadrunners are considering a change in the starting lineup on the eve of tonight’s home opener.

UTSA coach Steve Henson said Thursday he may start with freshman Erik Czumbel at point guard when the Roadrunners play the NAIA Wiley College Wildcats.

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at the Convocation Center.

Asked if Czumbel could get his first start, Henson said it could happen.

“We haven’t made the full decision on that, but there’s a very good chance,” the coach said.

Surprisingly, the Roadrunners haven’t won any of their first five games.

Moreover, they couldn’t sustain much consistency in a road opener at Oklahoma, in three neutral-site games in Florida and, finally, in a 32-point road loss Monday at 15th-ranked Utah State.

“We haven’t played the way we expected to, the way we are capable of, against some really, really good opponents,” Henson said. “We expected to be a little further along than we were.

“(It was a) tough start. We got to figure some things out. We got to defend better. Got to get better possessions offensively. We got to settle into a (playing) rotation.

“It’s a combination of everything.”

Hopes were high coming into the season with the presence of scoring stars Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace and a cast of promising newcomers.

With those two 20-point scorers from last year returning, the Roadrunners were picked to finish second in Conference USA.

Readying for a three-game homestand, UTSA has yet to make much magic.

The Roadrunners come in shooting an unsightly 34 percent from the field as a team. They’re averaging only 63 points. Opponents are averaging 81, including 86.5 the past two games.

“We haven’t been making shots, and we haven’t been getting the stops we needed,” Jackson said. “We’re really ready to step it up and start winning some games.”

Henson hopes that a return to the home court will help.

He also hopes that by playing Czumbel more at the point, he can relieve Wallace from some of his ball-handling responsibilities and allow him to start finding open spaces and knocking down more threes.

“We got to get Erik in there a lot more, because that’s going to help Keaton and Jhivvan,” Henson said.

UTSA’s starting backcourt tonight could be Czumbel, with Jackson and Wallace on the wings.

In that case, senior Byron Frohnen likely moves to the power forward, with either Atem Bior or Luka Barisic at center.

For the past three years, the Roadrunners started Giovanni De Nicolao at the point, and he emerged as a steady passer and ball handler who didn’t shoot much unless a play broke down.

He was solid defensively.

Czumbel has also exhibited strong defensive capabilities, but on offense, he has proven to be more of a shooter than a facilitator — at least, to this point.

The 6-3 guard from Italy, averaging 4.4 points in 12 minutes through five games, has has hit 8 of 13 from the field and 5 of 9 from three.

He has four assists and four turnovers.

Croatian forward brings multiple skills to UTSA basketball

UTSA forward Luka Barisic had nine points and five rebounds in 19 minutes last week in an exhibition victory against Texas A&M International. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA forward Luka Barisic had nine points and five rebounds in 19 minutes in an exhibition game last week against Texas A&M International. – photo by Joe Alexander

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.”

UTSA forward Luka Barisic charges through traffic on the dribble in an exhibition against Texas A&M International. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA forward Luka Barisic charges through traffic on the dribble in an exhibition against Texas A&M International. – photo by Joe Alexander

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.”