Roadrunners ‘fired up’ for the Conference USA tournament

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

UTSA center Jacob Germany was named honorable mention on the all-Conference USA team announced on Monday.- Photo by Joe Alexander

For a team that endured a couple of agonizing multiple-week gaps between victories this season, the UTSA Roadrunners are feeling surprisingly good about themselves leading into the Conference USA tournament.

The Roadrunners will take on the Southern Miss Golden Eagles Tuesday night in the tournament opener.

“We certainly got a couple of guys out for the season with injuries and other reasons, (and) we wish they were with us,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said Monday. “But with this group here, the spirits are good. Practices have been good. (We) made a pretty good run against North Texas, a great team, on Thursday. (We) played well on Saturday (against Rice) and (we’re) fired up to play tomorrow night.”

In a matchup of teams from the bottom of the C-USA West Division, UTSA (10-21, 3-15) plays Southern Miss (6-25, 1-17) on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at The Star in Frisco. If the Roadrunners win, they would advance to meet the Florida Atlantic Owls (18-13, 11-7) on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.

“I think everyone in this gym would say we’re going down there expecting to win,” said center Jacob Germany, the team’s leading scorer. “I think we all want to win. I’m really proud of our guys, that we’ve fought through this year and all the difficulties we had to face and overcome. Proud of everybody and everyone who stuck through it.”

While players and coaches felt good about themselves as they boarded a bus Monday bound for Frisco, they also have no illusions about how difficult it would be to win the tournament. For the Roadrunners to claim the C-USA title, they would need to win five games in five days.

Then again, they have made strides since they started conference with a 1-12 record.

Sophomore forward Isaiah Addo-Ankrah, for instance, has come on strong. In the last five games, the walk-on from Houston Second Baptist High School has averaged 9.4 points per game and has hit nearly 50 percent (14 of 30) from three-point distance. In addition, junior Erik Czumbel has averaged 11.2 points in his last six games.

In UTSA’s 82-71 victory over Rice at home on Saturday, Czumbel led four Roadrunners in double figures with a career-high 22 points.

“He’s been awfully good,” Henson said of Czumbel, from Verona, Italy, after the Rice game. “I thought he was terrific tonight. The ball was in his hands a lot. He got downhill. He got in the paint. Every time he shot it, it looked like it was going in.”

Playing limited minutes behind Darius McNeill, Jordan Ivy-Curry and Dhieu Deing in November and December, Czumbel couldn’t get anything going offensively. In his first 11 games, he took only 24 shots and hit six of them. He was 0 for 10 on 3-point shots until making his first trey on Jan. 3.

When Ivy-Curry left the team to enter the transfer portal a few weeks ago, Czumbel stepped up and started to make some things happen.

“It’s kind of been building,” Henson said. “His minutes have gone up … Erik’s going to gauge the situation, see how we’re flowing offensively. He’s not a guy who’s going to decide, ‘Hey, I’m going to go get 20 right now.’ But he understands some plays need to be made.”

While Czumbel has been a pleasant surprise as of late, Addo-Ankrah might have been the surprise of the year for the Roadrunners. He barely played for the first few months. He didn’t play at all in 10 of UTSA’s first 16 games.

But down the stretch, in the absence of Aleu Aleu, who is out for the year with a knee injury, Addo-Ankrah has scored in double figures three times. He torched Southern Miss for 21 points in Hattiesburg on Feb. 17.

“I’m not surprised,” Germany said. “He’s in the gym every night. He puts in the time, the hours. He’s taken advantage of this opportunity he’s gotten and everyone is just super proud of him. He deserves every bit of it. He’s a big key for us.”

Deing could be a wild card for UTSA in the tournament. At times this season, the junior transfer from Dodge City Community College in Kansas has played extremely well.

At other times, he has slumped badly. Once, in the first few days of January, he got so upset after a poor performance in Alabama against UAB that he left the team. Now he is back and is playing well.

Deing, who played for South Sudan’s national team last summer, is averaging 16.4 points while hitting 40.9 percent from three in his last five games.

For most of the season, Germany has been the rock. The 6-foot-11 junior from Oklahoma has averaged career highs of 14.7 points and 7.2 rebounds. Facing pressure in a lot of games from double teams, he has shot 48.2 percent from the field.

On Monday, Germany was named to the C-USA’s honorable mention team.

“There’s a bunch of good guys in our league, so I’m not surprised,” Germany said. “In my mind, I’m up there with anybody in the league. But the guys up there (on the first and second teams), they deserve it. I’ll be there next year.”

First-team honors went to Louisiana Tech center/power forward Kenneth Lofton, Jr. The big men honored on the second team were Thomas Bell of North Texas and Austin Trice of Old Dominion. On the third team, there were no big men listed, only five guards.

Coming up

UTSA in the Conference USA tournament, at Frisco
Tuesday — UTSA vs. Southern Miss, 7 p.m.
Wednesday — UTSA or Southern Miss vs. Florida Atlantic, 8:30 p.m.
Thursday — UTSA, Southern Miss or Florida Atlantic vs. UAB, 8:30 p.m.
Friday — Semifinals
Saturday — Finals

North Texas downs UTSA 59-48 for its 15th straight victory

Steve Henson. North Texas beat UTSA 59-48 on Thursday, March 3, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Steve Henson showed some raw emotions on a tough night, during which his team was denied a victory against the North Texas Mean Green, the No. 1 squad in Conference USA. The slumping Roadrunners host the Rice Owls in the regular-season finale Saturday afternoon. – Photo by Joe Alexander

In a record-breaking season, the North Texas Mean Green just keep grinding on opponents until they fold.

They did it to the UTSA Roadrunners Thursday night, executing with precision in the final 13 minutes to win 59-48 for their school-record 15th straight victory.

In some respects, the Mean Green beat the Roadrunners at the 3-point line.

Jacob Germany. North Texas beat UTSA 59-48 on Thursday, March 3, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jacob Germany produced 17 points and 10 rebounds but also picked up a technical foul in the second half. – Photo by Joe Alexander

North Texas, which has already clinched the best record in Conference USA, overcame less-than-stellar free-throw shooting with seven 3-pointers, all while hounding UTSA into a 1-of-11 performance from beyond the arc.

“We didn’t have our best game tonight … but, give UTSA some credit. They played with a purpose,” North Texas coach Grant McCasland told the team’s radio broadcast.

Trailing by 13 points late in the first half against a team that has lost only once since Thanksgiving, the Roadrunners enjoyed their best stretch in the first eight minutes after halftime, getting consistent scoring from center Jacob Germany and cutting the lead to three on two occasions.

A three-pointer by Erik Czumbel trimmed the Mean Green’s lead to 35-32 with 12:42 remaining.

From there, North Texas outscored UTSA 10-2 in the next three minutes, boosting their advantage to 11. Baskets by Thomas Bell and Tylor Perry capped the run for the Mean Green.

North Texas coach Grant McCasland. North Texas beat UTSA 59-48 on Thursday, March 3, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

North Texas coach Grant McCasland has led his team to 23 victories, including a school record 16 of them in conference play. – Photo by Joe Alexander

After that, the Roadrunners ran out of steam. They failed to come any closer than eight the rest of the way and lost their third game in a row.

The hard-luck Roadrunners have also dropped eight out of nine and 14 of 17 in falling to 9-21 on the season.

“Good team,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “Got to give them credit. They’ve been good for a couple of years now. Their style of play is very difficult to play against. Their defense is really good. Their offense just grinds you and grinds you and shortens the game.

“They don’t play many guys. Guys they do play can all go get a bucket. They’re a good team.”

With the victory, North Texas swept two games from UTSA in the season series, increasing its lead all-time to 19-12. The Mean Green have won eight of their last 10 against the Roadrunners since 2015-16.

With the regular-season finale set for Saturday afternoon at home against Rice, UTSA doesn’t have much time to get its game together before next week’s Conference USA tournament.

“Right now we’re pretty frustrated,” said UTSA guard Erik Czumbel, who played point guard most of the night and had eight points and three assists. “I think we were close to making (a) comeback and to be able to flip the switch. (But) we were not quite able to do so.

Darius McNeill. North Texas beat UTSA 59-48 on Thursday, March 3, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Darius McNeill scored 12 points for the Roadrunners against the North Texas Mean Green. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“So, I mean, right now, it’s just frustration. We just got to flip to the next page tomorrow and think about Rice.”

Over the last two and a half months, everything that could go haywire has gone haywire for the Roadrunners — everything from player defections, to injuries and at least one key defensive component lost to academics.

Not to mention a rash of Covid-19 disruptions.

“It’s hard when you have a season with so many challenges (and) you’re losing,” Czumbel said. “The most important thing is staying together. We haven’t had any fights or anything, and that’s what matters, I think.”

Records

North Texas 23-4, 16-1
UTSA 9-21, 2-15

Coming up

Saturday — Rice at UTSA, 2 p.m.
(end of regular season)

Conference USA tournament

Tuesday — UTSA vs. Southern Miss, at Frisco

By the numbers

North Texas — Thomas Bell, 16 points and seven rebounds. Five of 10 shooting from the field. Tylor Perry, 12 points. Four of eight shooting. Two 3-pointers. Mardrez McBride, 11 points, on four of nine. Also, two threes.

UTSA — Jacob Germany 17 points and 10 rebounds in 30 minutes. Seven of 16 shooting. Darius McNeill 12 points on five of 12 from the field. Dhieu Deing, six points on three of eight. Deing was 0-for-4 on 3-pointers. Walk-on Isaiah Addo-Ankrah, perhaps the team’s most consistent perimeter threat over the past month, was held scoreless. In 21 minutes, he took one shot and missed it.

First half

The relentless Mean Green held the Roadrunners without a field goal for the final 6:49 of the first half and took a comfortable 28-17 lead into the dressing room at intermission.

Playing on UTSA’s home floor at the Convocation Center, North Texas limited the home team to only five field goals, while forcing eight turnovers.

Pre-game

Coming in, the streaking Mean Green had won 14 games in a row and had posted a 20-1 record since Thanksgiving.

In their last outing, they had clinched the Conference USA regular-season title by beating the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs 56-49 in Denton.

With the victory, coming last Saturday before an announced crowd of 8,522 at the Super Pit, North Texas set a school record with its 15th conference win and matched the school record for the longest winning streak.

Slumping UTSA is coming off a 68-56 loss at home last Thursday to UAB. The Roadrunners have lost two straight and seven of eight.

After losing two players to season-ending injuries, another as an academic casualty and a fourth to the transfer portal, they have dropped 13 of their last 16.

UTSA and North Texas played on Feb. 5 in Denton, with the Mean Green winning 69-45.

North Texas is 18-12 against UTSA in the all-time series.

The Mean Green have prevailed consistently through the last few years, winning 7 of 9 against the Roadrunners since the 2015-16 season.

Sixth-year UTSA coach Steve Henson is 2-6 against North Texas. Fifth-year UNT coach Grant McCasland is 4-2 against UTSA.

Coach says Ivy-Curry ‘just felt like he need a fresh start’

HIgh-scoring sophomore guard Jordan Ivy-Curry has left the UTSA basketball program and has entered the transfer portal in hopes of catching on with another team.

“We sat down and talked yesterday,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said Wednesday. “He’s been over to compliance, a pretty simple process. Went over to compliance and signed the paperwork, so he is in the transfer portal as of yesterday afternoon.”

The issue with Ivy-Curry, a starter and one of the team’s leading scorers, has emerged as the latest in a string of misfortune to befall the Roadrunners this year.

UTSA has lost two players to season-ending injuries, Adrian Rodriguez in preseason camp and Aleu Aleu at midseason. Starting power forward Cedrick Alley Jr., ruled academically ineligible, was another midseason casualty.

Guard Dhieu Deing left the team and sat out seven games before deciding to return in late January.

In addition, the Roadrunners have had multiple interruptions with players going in and coming out of Covid-19 protocols. Given all the adversity, it’s not surprising that UTSA is 9-19 overall and 2-13 in Conference USA.

Henson said Ivy-Curry remains enrolled in classes.

“He needs to do that for his sake,” Henson said. “He’s done a really good job the last couple of weeks and is in great academic standing. As long as he handles it and I think he’s planning on handling it, his next step will be affected by what he does in the classroom.”

The coach said he doesn’t know where Ivy-Curry is looking for another opportunity.

“I don’t think he’s got a place in mind, is what he told us,” Henson said. “I think he’s going to wait and see what opportunities are there. He’ll have a bunch. Those people will start calling right away.”

Ivy-Curry averaged 13.9 points in 21 games this season. He sat out six games in Covid-19 protocols and one with a sprained ankle. Ivy-Curry, nicknamed ‘Juice’ for his ability to bring the energy, had played in limited minutes off the bench in the team’s last two games but was not 100 percent.

He didn’t practice this week and then came to Henson after Tuesday’s practice.

“Just felt like he wanted a fresh start,” Henson said. “We’re going to support him, love him and wish him well. He did some great things for our program. He’ll have a lot of success at his next stop, wherever that might be.

“We’ll be pulling for him and cheering for him.”

Records

UTSA 9-19, 2-13
UAB 20-7, 10-4

Coming up

Thursday — UAB at UTSA, 7 p.m.
March 3 — North Texas at UTSA, 7 p.m.
March 5 — Rice at UTSA, 2 p.m.

C-USA tournament

March 8 — Southern Miss vs. UTSA, at Frisco
March 9-12 — TBA

Roadrunners end six-game skid by downing the FIU Panthers

Dhieu Deing. UTSA beat Florida International 73-66 on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA’s Erik Czumbel embraces Dhieu Deing after a play late in the game as the Roadrunners hold off the FIU Panthers 73-66 at the Convocation Center. Deing had 19 points in his first game back after leaving the squad in the first week of January. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The losing streak is over. UTSA ended a troublesome six-game skid Thursday night by battling from behind in the second half to take down the FIU Panthers, 73-66.

As a bonus, the Roadrunners notched their first win in Conference USA this season. “We needed it badly,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “There’s no secret about it.”

The streak was the longest in Henson’s six years at UTSA and the longest overall since the Roadrunners lost nine in a row near the end of 2015-16, which was the last season in Brooks Thompson’s tenure as coach.

Jacob Germany. UTSA beat Florida International 73-66 on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Playing against a 7-foot-1 center, UTSA post Jacob Germany scored 11 points and pulled down eight rebounds in the second half. He had 23 and 11 for the game. – Photo by Joe Alexander

In facing FIU, a big and physical C-USA East Division team with a winning record, 6-foot-11 center Jacob Germany produced a double-double with 23 points and 11 rebounds.

Dhieu Deing added 19 points, including 15 in the second half. Jordan Ivy-Curry supplied 17 points, four rebounds and three assists as UTSA won for the first time in 24 days.

It was Ivy-Curry’s first game since Jan. 8. He sat out the last four in Covid protocols. For Deing, it was his first game since Jan. 1. He left the team briefly and sat out seven games as he tried to decide whether to turn pro or remain in college.

The Roadrunners, fighting against an extended stream of adversity during the month of January, have seen the season come to an end for Cedrick Alley, Jr. and Aleu Aleu.

Alley is academically ineligible and Aleu has suffered a right knee injury that required surgery.

All that notwithstanding, two of the most severe blows to the team came with the loss of Deing and Ivy-Curry.

Without them, defenses keyed on Germany and clogged up the paint. Players who hadn’t been shooting the ball much were forced to look at the basket, with only mixed results.

Jordan Ivy-Curry. UTSA beat Florida International 73-66 on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jordan Ivy-Curry scored 17 points in his first game back after sitting out four in Covid protocols. He hit a three with five minutes left that helped to fuel a late UTSA rally. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The Roadrunners were 1-6 without Deing (the only win coming against Dallas Christian) and 0-4 without both Deing an Ivy-Curry.

Deing, a 6-foot-5 junior transfer, said it “felt big” to earn the victory in his first game back.

“I prayed a lot on it,” he said. “I just felt like I couldn’t quit on my team like that. So, me, personally, I just (wanted to) do anything I could to win.”

Deing, who nailed three 3-point shots in the second half, said he thinks the difference down the stretch may have stemmed from the Roadrunners starting to learn how to play and pull together when the times get tough.

“Just, how are we going to fight adversity,” he said. “Basketball is about adversity, how are you going to fight it? We did it as a team, together.”

Deing actually had re-joined the team last week, but had to go into Covid protocols and ended up sitting out a couple of losses to the UTEP Miners, one on the road ane one at home.

Florida International's Clevon Brown is from San Antonio and Churchill High School. He had 12 points, 3 rebounds and 3 blocks on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022, against UTSA. - photo by Joe Alexander

Former Churchill High School standout Clevon Brown had 12 points, three rebounds and three blocked shots for the FIU Panthers. – Photo by Joe Alexander

He described his return as emotional.

“I think they’re always going to be my brothers,” he said. “I apologized. I told him I was sorry I quit on ’em. I was just happy to come back and take some dubs with this team.”

In the aftermath of a road loss at UAB on the first day of the New Year, tensions mounted when the team got back home.

“I was just frustrated,” Deing said. “A lot of things going on. A lot of people in my ear. Just a lot of things going on. Just frustration.”

Deing sat out on Jan. 3 against Dallas Christian, and then UTSA released a statement on Jan. 6 saying that he wasn’t on the team and was looking at options in pro basketball.

In regard to his other options, Deing said he considered “a lot of things” but did not sign anything.

After FIU bell behind and trailed most of the first half, at one time by as many as 14 points, the Panthers gradually climbed back in the game after intermission and took the lead with 7:57 left.

With point guard Tevin Brewer orchestrating the attack, FIU continued to press the action and pushed the advantage to Five. A floater by Brewer made it 61-56 in favor of the Panthers with 5:26 remaining.

Darius McNeill. UTSA beat Florida International 73-66 on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Guard Darius McNeill takes it to the hoop for the Roadrunners. – Photo by Joe Alexander

From there, the Roadrunners pushed back. Consecutive 3-pointers from Ivy-Curry and Deing vaulted UTSA back on top by one point.

Down the stretch, UTSA benefited from plays by Germany and Erik Czumbel, who hit another three.

Both Deing and Ivy-Curry, at the line with one-and-one situations late, came up big by knocking down two free throws in each instance.

“Teams high in the standings are often times playing a lot of close games,” Henson said. “They’re just finding ways to win those ball games. We needed to get this one to reinforce that, to get it off our back and build on it.

“Kind of the message here is, keep building.”

Records

FIU 12-8, 2-5
UTSA 8-13, 1-7

Coming up

Saturday, FAU at UTSA, 1 p.m.

Notable

Germany was aggressive in pulling down five offensive rebounds, and he was efficient in hitting 10 of 18 shots. Coming against a team with a 7-foot-1 center (Seth Pinckney) and a few other wide-bodied forwards, it was clearly one of his better efforts of the season.

Quotable

“That’s Jacob,” Deing said. “He can come in and score 20 any day he want.”

Isaiah Addo-Ankrah and Jordan Ivy-Curry celebrate after Addo-Ankrah grabbed the final rebound of the game. UTSA beat Florida International 73-66 on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Isaiah Addo-Ankrah and Jordan Ivy-Curry celebrate after Addo-Ankrah grabbed the final rebound of the game. It was UTSA’s first win after 24 days and six straight losses. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Scoring threats Deing, Ivy-Curry return to practice for UTSA

Dhieu Deing. UTSA came from behind to beat IUPUI 60-57 on Wednesday at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Guard Dhieu Deing has returned to practice with the UTSA Roadrunners. UTSA coach Steve Henson says it’s uncertain whether Deing will play at home Thursday night against the FIU Panthers. – File photo by Joe Alexander

Was that an air of optimism in the UTSA Convocation Center on Tuesday?

Or, was it just that confounded draft blowing through the old basketball arena when someone would enter through the doors on the north side of the building?

It might have been a little of both. But, whatever it was, the slumping Roadrunners had more players on the gym floor for practice than they’ve had in awhile.

Dhieu Deing (left) and Jordan Ivy-Curry go through drills at practice Tuesday afternoon. — Photo by Jerry Briggs

One of them was streak-shooting junior guard Dhieu Deing, who has been absent from practices and games for a little more than three weeks, reportedly not a part of the team as he considered options in the professional ranks.

Another player returning was sophomore guard Jordan Ivy-Curry, who has been out two weeks in Covid protocols.

UTSA coach Steve Henson said Ivy-Curry is expected to play when the Roadrunners, losers of six straight games, host the FIU Panthers Thursday night.

Whether Deing will play against the Panthers remains to be seen, the coach said.

“I can’t say on Dhieu yet,” Henson said. “Juice will play. I’m sure Juice will play. Unless something happens. We expect Juice to play as much as he can handle. We’ll see how it goes in the next 48 hours with Dhieu.”

A game in Alabama against the UAB Blazers on Jan. 1 seemingly sparked some tensions in the UTSA program. In the team’s Conference USA opener, the Blazers routed the Roadrunners, 87-59, and Deing was held to 0-for-11 shooting.

After returning home to San Antonio, emotions apparently were still running high.

Asked if Deing’s departure was a disciplinary measure, Henson said, “He was just frustrated. We were having a team meeting. We were discussing some things. And he stepped out … The next day, I think there was a lot on his mind at that point, a lot of pressure.

“He was just coming off the rough game against UAB. As a team, we were frustrated. We struggled as a team in that ball game. I just think there was a lot on his mind. He made a rash decision.

“We kind of had to let it settle down a little bit.”

First, Deing sat out a Jan. 3 non-conference home game against Dallas Christian. Next, UTSA announced on Jan. 6 before a C-USA home game against Southern Miss that he was no longer part of the program.

Even after the announcement, Henson said he continued to talk to the former North Carolina prep standout. Pretty soon, the talk turned to the possibility that he could re-join the team.

“He basically said he didn’t want to leave his team that way,” Henson said. “We just had to work through all the details on it and make sure we were comfortable with it. (We) continued to think about what impact it would have.

“Just felt like it was the right thing to do, at least give him a chance to come back to practice.”

A possibility existed that Deing could have come back to practice last week, but the plans were scuttled when he went into contract tracing protocols, Henson said.

Instead, the 6-foot-5, shot-maker made his first appearance at practice since late December on Tuesday afternoon.

“A couple of weeks ago, I made a mistake,” Deing said in a statement released by the athletic department. “I was frustrated on the court and lost my focus. I made a quick emotional decision, and I regret it.

“My coaches were very supportive of me, and I am grateful for that. I apologize to my team and our fans. I hope to come back and help our team in any way I can.”

Deing started in UTSA’s first 13 games. He averaged 15.3 points and 5.7 rebounds, while shooting 35.4 percent from the field.

Hot and cold with his jump shot, Deing was at his best when he was most selective, scoring 20 or more points four times.

Ivy-Curry, meanwhile, sat out two games in December and then missed the last four, both times because of Covid issues. The sophomore from Houston is averaging 15.1 points in 14 games.

If both of them can return to form, it could make quite a difference for the Roadrunners, who rank last in the conference, averaging 66.7 points as a team.

UTSA played short-handed with several players missing in recent days against the UTEP Miners, losing twice in low-scoring affairs decided by five points apiece.

On Sunday afternoon at home, the Roadrunners were boosted by the return of Christian Tucker and Josh Farmer, but the Miners pulled it out, 59-54.

Henson gave his players the day off on Monday, and on Tuesday, they gathered again. For the first time in weeks, Deing and Ivy-Curry were back on the floor together, and the energy picked up.

“It’s so helpful,” Henson said. “You can practice a little longer that way. Certainly we were able to get guys more reps at the right positions.”

Notable

If Deing gets back into the playing rotation, and it’s likely he will, the Roadrunners remain short-handed with 11 conference games remaining on the schedule.

Reserve center Adrian Rodriguez, a senior, retired from basketball with knee problems during preseason camp. UTSA announced last week that junior forward Aleu Aleu was also out for the season. Henson said he had surgery on his right knee.

In addition, Cedrick Alley, Jr., has been ruled academically ineligible.

Coming up

Thursday — FIU at UTSA, 7 p.m.
Saturday — FAU at UTSA, 1 p.m.

Records

Florida International 12-7, 2-4
UTSA 7-13, 0-7

Homecoming

FIU forward Clevon Brown, a grad transfer from Vanderbilt, grew up in San Antonio. He played at Churchill High School. Brown played four seasons with Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference. Now at FIU, he’s averaging 7.9 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocked shots for the Panthers.

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.

UT Rio Grande Valley buries short-handed UTSA, 68-50

Steve Henson. UT Rio Grande Valley beat UTSA 68-50 on Friday, Nov. 17, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA guard Dhieu Deing and coach Steve Henson had a rough night Friday as the Roadrunners lost at home by 18 points. With two UTSA players sidelined in health and safety protocols, UT Rio Grande Valley won 68-50 to snap a five-game losing streak. – Photo by Joe Alexander

With two players sidelined in health and safety protocols, the UTSA Roadrunners experienced a horrible start and an even worse finish to a basketball game played on their home court Friday night.

Objectively speaking, though, the UT Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros had a lot to do with Roadrunners’ misery both early and late.

The Vaqueros held the home team to 3 of 17 shooting in the game’s first eight minutes, and then they hit 57 percent from the field themselves in the second half to claim a 68-50 victory at the UTSA Convocation Center.

UTRGV’s determined play notwithstanding, the Roadrunners clearly missed starting point guard Jordan Ivy-Curry.

Both Ivy-Curry and reserve forward Aleu Aleu were forced to sit out in protocols designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Against slumping UTRGV, the Roadrunners failed to make up for what Ivy-Curry gives them as a scorer, as a defender and as a floor leader.

“We just missed some real, real easy (shots) early in the game, and then forced some things,” UTSA coach Steve Henson told the UTSA radio broadcast. “Didn’t get any rhythm.”

After falling behind by 13 points in the first half, the Roadrunners briefly found a spark, surging behind Jacob Germany to pull within one at intermission.

Cedrick Alley Jr. UT Rio Grande Valley beat UTSA 68-50 on Friday, Nov. 17, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Cedrick Alley Jr. came off the bench to produce 15 points and seven rebounds. Alley played 28 minutes despite missing a few practices earlier this week with an illness. – Photo by Joe Alexander

In the second half, they played well early, forging a 34-28 lead at one point. But after that, the Roadrunners just couldn’t hang on against a team intent on breaking a five-game losing streak.

The Vaqueros went on a monster 29-5 run to blow the Roadrunners out. During the streak, the Roadrunners went scoreless for nine agonizing minutes.

Associate head coach Mike Peck told Henson that UTSA went 15 straight possessions without a basket.

“You can be pretty good defensively, and you go 15 straight trips without putting the ball in the hole … at some point, it’s really, really going to stress your defense,” Henson said.

For the Vaqueros, the win was sweet. It was their first victory since Nov. 23 when they registered a 72-67 decision over Cal Fullerton. The Vaqueros had lost five in a row since then, falling in difficult road games at Illinois and at Texas along the way.

Coming into the game, UTSA was just starting to find a rhythm on offense. The Roadrunners had won five of seven games. In their last game, they hit 47 percent of their shots from the field in a five-point, neutral site victory over Sam Houston State.

Against UTRGV, the Roadrunners were held to a chilly 25.7 percent from the field. With the Vaqueros packing their defenders inside to stop the 6-foot-11 Germany, UTSA couldn’t capitalize, making only 2 of 21 from three-point territory.

Records

UTSA 6-5
UT Rio Grande Valley 5-7

Coming up

Tuesday — UTSA at Illinois State, 2 p.m.
Wednesday — Our Lady of the Lake at UTSA, 7 p.m.

Individuals

UTRGV — Forward Marek Nelson produced a team-high 13 points, seven rebounds and two steals. Guard BJ Simmons scored 12 and Xavier Johnson came off the bench to add 11. Both knocked down three, 3-point baskets. Justin Johnson, UTRGV’s leading scorer, was held to four points on 2 of 10 shooting.

UTSA — Center Jacob Germany had 16 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. Cedrick Alley Jr. went for 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Dhieu Deing, UTSA’s leading scorer, had his toughest night of the season with only seven points to break his string of 10 straight games in double figures. Deing was held to 3 of 18 shooting.

Notebook

The UTSA trainer delivered the news to Henson about Ivy-Curry and Aleu late Wednesday night. On Thursday, the two players were not at practice, and Henson acknowledged their status. Henson said he wasn’t sure how long they would be out. UTSA opens Conference USA play on Dec. 30 at Middle Tennessee State.

Jacob Germany. UT Rio Grande Valley beat UTSA 68-50 on Friday, Nov. 17, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jacob Germany scored 16 points and pulled down nine rebounds. In his last four games, Germany has averaged 16.5 points and 7.8 boards. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Two UTSA basketball players sidelined in COVID protocols

Jordan Ivy-Curry. A&M-Corpus Christi beat UTSA 77-58 on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Sidelined by COVID-19 protocols, high-scoring UTSA guard Jordan Ivy-Curry is not expected to play Friday night when the Roadrunners host UT Rio Grande Valley. – File photo by Joe Alexander

Starting guard Jordan Ivy-Curry and backup forward Aleu Aleu, a promising newcomer, have landed in COVID-19 protocols and are not expected to play for the UTSA Roadrunners when they host the UT Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros Friday night.

UTSA coach Steve Henson didn’t say whether either one had tested positive, only that they were in protocols. But he did say that neither is feeling symptoms. He said he isn’t certain how long the two will be unavailable.

“We got all this news late last night, very late last night,” Henson said following a Thursday afternoon practice. “Don’t know all the details. But, certainly (neither will play) tomorrow.”

Neither attended the team’s practice.

Even though the Roadrunners have won three of four and five of their last seven, they have done so in spite of a stretch of adversity covering most of the past three weeks.

Guard Darius McNeill went down on Nov. 24 with a foot injury and has been out for three straight games nursing a case of plantar fasciitis in his right foot.

Forward Cedrick Alley Jr., one of the team’s hottest shooters of late, battled an illness that caused him to miss most of the team’s practices this week.

Both worked out Thursday and appear to be ready to go for the game against the Vaqueros.

At the same time, the loss of Ivy-Curry and Aleu is troublesome, given that the Roadrunners play three games in the next six days.

“It is what it is,” Henson said. “Juice is obviously a key guy. The role he’s played the last few games, getting almost all the minutes at the point guard spot, I liked the progress he was making in that regard. He was feeling pretty good. I liked what he was doing.”

Ivy-Curry, a sophomore from Houston, has emerged as the team’s second leading scorer. He is averaging 14.1 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 10 games.

Aleu Aleu. UTSA beat St. Mary's 76-65 in men's basketball on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Aleu Aleu (above) played 22 minutes on Saturday in Houston and had come on strong in recent practices. – File photo by Joe Alexander

Slowed by injuries to start the season, Aleu, a 6-foot-8 native of Africa, has played in only four games, the last four, averaging 10 minutes as he worked his way back.

Last Saturday, he played a season-high 22 minutes in Houston against Sam Houston State, hit his first three-pointer and contributed with an all-around game.

The former Austin High School and Temple College standout had started to come on strong for UTSA in recent practices, as well, showing off a sweet stroke on three-point shots.

“We were going to try to expand his role rather significantly,” Henson said.

Coming up

UT Rio Grande Valley (4-7) at UTSA (6-4), Friday at 7 p.m.

Notebook

The Roadrunners are scheduled to travel on Monday and then play on Tuesday afternoon at Illinois State in Normal, Ill. On Wednesday night, they’re scheduled to play at home against San Antonio-based Our Lady of the Lake University.

After a break for Christmas, they open Conference USA competition on the road the following week. The Roadrunners will play at Middle Tennessee State on Dec. 30 and at UAB on Jan. 1.

Senior Darius McNeill said it’s “very important” for the team to continue playing well in the three non-conference games.

“If we just stick to how coach wants to play, moving the ball around, playing hard on defense, (we’ll be OK),” he said. “You’ve seen us. Everyone’s touching the ball, everybody’s just flowing … We’re playing like a team — like a winning team.”

McNeill says he’s feeling much better after the bout with the plantar fasciitis, his second such bout in two seasons. He said the injury knocked him out of the lineup for “four or five” games last season at SMU.

McNeill returned to workouts on Monday and did a little more on Tuesday. He said his workout on Wednesday was his first “going up and down” in a game-like situation this week.

“When I was scoring and (doing) certain things off my foot, it felt good,” he said. “I was just playing with a clear mind. Mentally, I’m in a very good space.”

Taking better shots, UTSA starts to hit a higher percentage

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

Guard Dhieu Deing leads UTSA in scoring with 17.6 points per game. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The UTSA Roadrunners’ offense hasn’t created as many problems for opponents this year as it did last year.

Last year, with Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace on the floor, UTSA’s foes couldn’t slack off without one or the other pulling up and burying a 28 footer. The Roadrunners averaged 78.8 points per game on 44.7 percent shooting.

This year, with Jackson and Wallace having moved on to seek their fortunes in pro ball, the Roadrunners have forged through some uncertain times, hitting on a 39.1 percent clip and averaging 70.2 points.

After a shaky start, some soul searching and extensive work on the practice floor, UTSA nevertheless has started to become more efficient recently. In their last four games, the Roadrunners are averaging 74 points and knocking down 42.4 percent from the field.

Perhaps not coincidentally, they’re 3-1 in that stretch.

“We’re just getting better shots and moving it better,” Roadrunners coach Steve Henson said after Tuesday afternoon’s workout at the Convocation Center. “We’ve had good starts the last two games. We’re making progress.”

Heating up

Here’s a glance at UTSA’s shooting, game by game, in its last four outings, including final score and field goal makes-attempts:

Nov. 24 — UTSA beats Lamar, 79-73. FG: 25-53
Nov. 29 — UTSA beats St. Mary’s, 75-65. FG: 24-59
Dec. 2 — Grand Canyon beats UTSA, 74-71. FG: 25-69
Dec. 11 — UTSA beats Sam Houston State, 78-73. FG 27-57
(UTSA four-game total, field goal makes-attempts, 101-238, for 42.4 percent)

Coming up

Friday, 7 p.m. — UT Rio Grande Valley (4-7) at UTSA (6-4).

Notebook

UTRGV played at home in Edinburg on Tuesday night and lost 70-60 to the Texas Southern Tigers. The Vaqueros have lost five in a row.

After the Roadrunners downed the Bearkats in Houston on Saturday, they traveled back to San Antonio that night, took Sunday as a day off and returned to work Monday with a weight training session, film study and a practice.

On Tuesday morning, they did a community service project, traveling to help the San Antonio Food Bank with a distribution at South San High School.

In an extremely positive sign for the team, senior guard Darius McNeill has returned to practice this week. McNeill had sat out since tweaking his right foot against Lamar on Nov. 24.

Upon his return Monday, he did more than expected and then seemed to be back to his usual speedy self in a two-hour drill Tuesday afternoon. Henson said he’s uncertain whether McNeill will play on Friday.

“He looked pretty good,” the coach said, “better than I anticipated.”

A concern was power forward Cedrick Alley Jr., who has been ill the past few days. Alley did not attend Tuesday’s workout. “He wasn’t feeling well yesterday and was feeling worse today,” the coach said. “Got to get him tested, get him checked out.”

Junior transfer Aleu Aleu, who missed all of the October practices with a quad injury and sat out the first six games of the season, closed the workout with a flourish.

Aleu Aleu is a 6-foot-8 junior guard/forward who comes to the UTSA men's basketball team from Temple Community College. - photo by Joe Alexander

Aleu Aleu, a 6-8 junior, played a season-high 22 minutes Saturday in Houston. – File photo by Joe Alexander

Unofficially, he knocked down at least five in a row from behind the 3-point line to complete his workout.

“He’s getting so much more comfortable,” Henson said.

Aleu, a newcomer, is a 6-foot-8 forward, a finesse-type player who weighs only 180 pounds. He grew up in Africa but later moved into the Austin area and attended junior college in Temple.

He played 22 minutes against Sam Houston State and impressed coaches with a few heady plays. He finished with three points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals.

Roadrunners fine-tune for their next game Saturday in Houston

Steve Henson. UTSA beat St. Mary's 76-65 in men's basketball on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Coach Steve Henson’s UTSA Roadrunners are in final exam week, with their next game set for Saturday in Houston against the Sam Houston State Bearkats. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Coming off a strong performance in a three-point loss in Arizona last Thursday, the UTSA Roadrunners are fine tuning in preparation for a game Saturday in Houston against Sam Houston State.

Tipoff is at 3 p.m. at the Toyota Center between the Roadrunners (5-4) and the Bearkats (3-5).

In their last game, the Roadrunners bolted to an early 12-point lead and led by five midway through the second half before falling to the once-beaten Grand Canyon, Ariz., Antelopes.

Despite the loss, Roadrunners coach Steve Henson said it was “the best we’ve played” this season.

“The theme for a couple of weeks has been having better possessions,” Henson said after Wednesday’s practice. “Taking better shots. Moving the ball more. Taking a big step in that regard.

“I think we’re understanding what good possessions look like. We’re getting a better idea of who we are. You know, we’re not the kind of team that’s going to make 10 or 15 threes most nights.

“I don’t think we’re a bad shooting team. It’s just not who we are right now. I think they’re buying into the idea that they’ve got to make some stronger plays. With more drive and kicks. More paint touches.”

After playing in Phoenix, the Roadrunners returned to San Antonio on Friday and took the rest of the day and all day Saturday off, leading into this week, which is final exams week.

“(We had) Sunday practice, kind of normal,” Henson said. “Monday, we did some skill work, broke up in groups … did a lot of skill work, a very productive day.”

Players had another day off Tuesday and then returned to practice on Wednesday.

McNeill making progress

Senior guard Darius McNeill, who has missed the last two games, remains a question mark with a foot injury. Henson declined to speculate on when he might be able to play again. McNeill was a starter before he suffered the injury at home against Lamar on Nov. 24.

“He’s made some progress,” Henson said. “He got the (walking) boot off. It’s good to see him walking around. He was on that high-tech treadmill the other day, take some of the body weight off … He was able to jog on that. (But) we don’t have a time frame (for his return).”

Asked if McNeill could be ready for the start of conference play at the end of the month, the coach said “we haven’t even talked about it. We’ll have to see what the doctors tell us.”

Bofinger running hard

Sophomore forward Lachlan Bofinger was running hard Wednesday, obviously in much better physical shape than he has been since twisting an ankle on Nov. 29 at home against the St. Mary’s Rattlers.

Bofinger played only two minutes at Grand Canyon.

“It was really swollen when we went to Grand Canyon the other day. He wanted to play. But we just didn’t think he’d be able to (go),” Henson said. “Sunday, he had an unbelievable practice … He was much, much improved.”