Jackson scores 33 points as UTSA beats Texas State, 77-71

Guard Jhivvan Jackson produced a season-high 33 points and added seven rebounds Saturday afternoon, leading the UTSA Roadrunners past the Texas State Bobcats, 77-71, in San Marcos.

Jackson hit 13 of 26 from the field as the Roadrunners (3-6) won their first road game of the season and claimed their first two-game winning streak.

Keaton Wallace scored 17 points and Erik Czumbel had 11 to deny the Bobcats (6-4).

Breaking from a three-point halftime lead, the Roadrunners stayed patient in their offense and hit six three-pointers after intermission.

Jackson nailed a big one with 4:48 remaining to make it a 10-point game. With a defender’s hand in his face, he leaned back and hoisted it high, drawing nothing but net.

“They’re a great defensive team and I knew they were going to come at me,” Jackson told the team’s radio broadcast. “But I had a couple of easy shots in the beginning. It was kind of just, my teammates helped me on the screens, and coach trusted me to take a few more shots. I mean, they were really just going in today.”

It was a big win for the Roadrunners, who started the season at 0-5.

“To be honest, this was a concerning game … because they’re so tough, so good defensively,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “We haven’t shown the ability to have strong possessions yet. We get clicking sometimes, but I was concerned that maybe we weren’t ready to have enough good offensive possessions to withstand their pressure, and we did.”

Guard Mason Harrell led the Bobcats with 19 points. Guard Caleb Asberry had 18. Nijal Pearson, Texas State’s best player, was held to 15 points on 5 of 15 shooting.

Pearson was 2 of 6 from the field in the second half and seemed frustrated at times by the UTSA defense.

First-half recap

Jackson came out hot, scoring 21 points in the first half as UTSA took a 37-34 lead on the Bobcats.

The game is being played in San Marcos at Strahan Arena, the home of the Bobcats.

Hitting nine of 16 from the field and three of seven from beyond the arc, Jackson paced the Roadrunners, who built a lead as large as nine points.

Mason Harrell hit a three with four seconds left in the half to pull the Bobcats to within three.

Records

UTSA 3-6
Texas State 6-4

Recently

Texas State played at the University of Houston on Wednesday night. The Cougars won 68-60 to snap the Bobcats’ four-game winning streak.

UTSA played at home on Tuesday, beating Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 89-67. It was UTSA’s first victory over an NCAA Division I team this season.

Texas State rallies for 64-57 road victory at UNLV

The Texas State Bobcats rallied from a 10-point deficit in the first half and then held on late to defeat the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels 64-57 Wednesday night in Las Vegas.

Guard Nijal Pearson led the Bobcats with a season-high 25 points and 10 rebounds in the victory at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The Runnin’ Rebels couldn’t get anything going offensively against the Bobcats, shooting 34.7 percent from the field.

Records

Texas State 4-2
UNLV 2-4

Key Sequence

Trailing 26-16, the Bobcats constructed a 12-2 run to tie the game at halftime. Pearson hit four straight free throws and a jumper in the streak that lifted Texas State into a 28-28 tie.

Star watch

Amauri Hardy scored 18 for UNLV, hitting 4 of 7 from beyond the three-point stripe. The junior guard from Detroit was 5 of 14 from the field. Hardy entered averaging 19 points.

Pearson, a senior guard from Beaumont, hit 8 of 16 from the floor. He was only 1 of 5 from three. But he nailed 8 of 9 at the line. He came in averaging 17.8.

Bobcats take over Sun Belt lead with win over Cajuns

The Texas State Bobcats on Saturday won their 22nd game of the year and moved into sole possession of first place in the Sun Belt Conference.

They also did it in dramatic fashion, building an 18-point, second-half lead, falling behind by a point and then grinding out a 64-62 victory at home over the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns.

Guard Nijal Pearson hit a three with 1:21 remaining for the final points of the game.

After the last regular-season home game of the season, Bobcats coach Danny Kaspar took the microphone at courtside and thanked fans at Strahan Arena for their support.

Texas State closes its regular-season schedule with three road games — at Troy and South Alabama and at UT-Arlington.

The Bobcats (22-6, 11-4) hold a one-game lead on the Georgia State Panthers (19-9, 10-5) in the race for the Sun Belt title.

Coastal Carolina, playing at home in Conway, South Carolina, beat Georgia State 95-82 on Saturday.

Records

Texas State 22-6, 11-4
Louisiana 16-11, 7-7

Individuals

Texas State — Tre Nottingham, 17 points. Nijal Pearson and Eric Terry, 13 apiece.

Louisiana — Cedric Russell, 25.

Fans start to take notice of Division I hoops in San Marcos

Keaton Wallace had 19 points for UTSA. Texas State beat UTSA 69-68 on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018 at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Texas State forward Chandler Davis (left) defends against UTSA’s Keaton Wallace. The Bobcats beat the Roadrunners 69-68 on Dec. 1 in San Antonio. – Photo by Joe Alexander.

Texas State Bobcats coach Danny Kaspar likely has known for awhile now that his team could emerge in March as one of the most special in school history.

He hasn’t said so in as many words.

At least, not until Saturday, when he started comparing his squad favorably to some of the best in school history.

Moments after a stirring 77-64 victory over Arkansas State in front of 4,163 fans at Strahan Arena, Kaspar credited the fans for their support and talked about how helpful they could be down the stretch.

“I know the crowd helped us, but it also wowed (the players) when they walked out there,” he said, in a video posted on the program’s website. “I mean, other than the Air Force game, that’s the first good crowd we’ve had.

“And, of course, a lot of our students are in town and that makes a difference.”

Texas State drew 4,058 on Nov. 9 in an opening-night 67-57 victory over Air Force.

With that performance, the Bobcats started to build momentum, which has carried them to a 16-3 record, including 5-1 in the Sun Belt.

Now tied for first in the standings, Texas State will commence preparation for a meeting with Sun Belt co-leader Georgia State Thursday night in Atlanta.

A demanding coach who chooses his words carefully, Kaspar said his team is “worth a look” when it returns home to play at Strahan in coming weeks.

“I just think this team is playing some of the best basketball in the Division I era (of the university),” Kaspar said. “I know that they had some great teams during the NAIA years.

“But in the Division I era, this is about as good as anyone’s been playing, since the Jeff Foster days, the Donte Mathis days.”

Formerly a NAIA and NCAA Division II program, Texas State transitioned into Division I in the 1984-85 season.

Success has been spotty, with the Bobcats reaching the NCAA tournament in 1994 and 1997. They haven’t been back since.

Could this year be the year? Given that the Bobcats are 14-2 since mid-November, the coach issued an appeal to the fans.

“I’m hoping people will say, ‘Maybe it’s worth a look,’ and start coming out,” Kaspar said. “I think they have fun when they’re here.”

Georgia State holds on to beat Texas State, 73-69

The Georgia State Crimson Panthers hit eight 3-point shots in the second half Saturday and held on for a 73-69 victory over the Texas State Bobcats.

Playing at home in San Marcos, the Bobcats jumped out to an eight-point lead in the first half and had the game tied with 12:49 remaining.

But a that point, in a battle of Sun Belt Conference contenders, the Panthers went on a 17-5 streak to gain the upper hand.

Nijal Pearson led Texas State with 26 points on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018. The Bobcats beat UTSA 69-68 at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Nijal Pearson scored seven points during a first-half burst by the Bobcats but was held to 10 on the day. – photo by Joe Alexander, Dec. 1, at UTSA.

Forward Malik Benlevi capped the run with two 3-point baskets for a 58-46 Georgia State lead.

At the end, the Bobcats made it interesting, pulling to within three.

But D’Marcus Simonds hit a free throw with four seconds left for the final point.

Early in the first half, the Bobcats constructed a 17-6 run that included seven points by Nijal Pearson.

Chandler Davis capped the streak with an offensive rebound and a put back attempt and two free throws, lifting the Bobcats into a 21-13 lead.

Not to be outdone, the Panthers answered with a 13-3 spree to the halftime buzzer.

A layup by Simonds with two seconds left boosted Georgia State into a 26-24 intermission lead.

Georgia State turned the game in its favor with second-half three-point shooting.

After hitting only 1 of 10 from beyond the arc in the first half, the Panthers made 8 of 15 after intermission.

Records

Georgia State 11-4, 2-0
Texas State 12-3, 1-1

Individuals

Georgia State — Malik Benlevi 19 points, 4 three-pointers, 7 rebounds. Kane Williams, 17 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists. Devin Mitchell, 16 points, 4 three-pointers.

Texas State — Tre Nottingham 17 points, 3 three-pointers. Jaylen Shead, 13 points, 7 rebounds. Nijal Pearson, 10 points. Eric Terry, 10 points.

Texas State’s Kaspar encouraged by effort at Arkansas

Playing on the road in a traditionally hostile setting, the upstart Texas State Bobcats opened with a 19-6 burst Saturday afternoon against a higher-profile opponent that didn’t seem all that interested in competing.

Texas State coach Danny Kaspar. His Bobcats beat UTSA 69-68 at the UTSA Convocation Center on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018. - photo by Joe Alexander

Texas State coach Danny Kaspar. – Photo by Joe Alexander

But then the Arkansas Razorbacks woke up and found a rhythm, answering with a 17-0 run over a four-minute stretch that spelled the difference in a 73-70 victory, putting an end to the Bobcats’ eight-game winning streak.

“We started off strong, and Arkansas picked it up,” Texas State coach Danny Kaspar told reporters. “They counter-punched us and knocked us down, and we were a little slow to get up. I guess it went from 19-6 (in favor of Texas State) to 21-19, something like that.

“Other than that stretch right there, I thought we played pretty good.”

Kaspar’s comments were posted in a video published online at wholehogsports.com.

After a Christmas break, Texas State will continue its non-conference slate on Dec. 29 at home against Howard Payne. It’s the final test for the Bobcats before they open play in the Sun Belt on Jan. 3 at home against Georgia Southern.

Based on what has happened in the first few months of the season, the Bobcats should feel pretty good about their chances in conference.

In Nijal Pearson, Tre Nottingham, Jaylen Shead, Alex Peacock and Eric Terry, they’ve got a leadership nucleus that has played well together for most of the season.

Kaspar lamented 13 of 41 shooting combined by Pearson, Nottingham and Peacock.

“We got to have our main people shoot better than that,” Kaspar said. “But, I thought our defense was reasonably good, against a team in a pretty hostile environment, like this place is.”

Texas State also outrebounded Arkansas, 42-34, grabbing 17 offensive boards along the way.

“You know, we didn’t really have an answer for (Daniel) Gafford,” Kaspar said. “I’m not sure a lot of people are going to have an answer for him. He’s a good player.

“But then I thought Mason Jones was the one player that made a difference in the game today. He really had a good game. He was very efficient against us. He hurt us even more than Gafford.

“But we’ll take from this and learn from it and try to do better.”

Kaspar seemed particularly pleased with the rebounding statistics, particularly the 17 offensive rebounds.

“Shows me we were battling pretty good,” he said.

Notable

Texas State is 10-2 to lead all teams in the Sun Belt in non-conference victories.

Pearson ranks in the top ten in the conference in three major statistical categories, including scoring (19.6, sixth), field goal percentage (48.9, eighth) and three-point percentage (49.4, first).

Shead, the team’s starting point guard, is tied for second in assists (4.9) and leads in assist-turnover ratio (2.7-1).

Alonzo Sule’s inspired play off the bench sparks Texas State

When the Texas State University basketball team started working out earlier this fall, a series of ankle injuries kept redshirt freshman forward Alonzo Sule off the floor.

Sule would sit out for a few days each time until, one day, Bobcats coach Danny Kaspar summoned him for a chat.

“When you get hurt,” Kaspar told him, “you can’t help me and I can’t help you.”

With his injury woes in the past, Sule has started to help Kaspar and the Bobcats in a big way.

The 6-foot-7 forward from Africa has exploded for 45 points off the bench in his last two games.

More impressively, in scoring 22 against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and 23 against Houston Baptist, Sule has hit 19 of 21 shots from the floor.

“Almost seems like a light switch just flipped on,” Kaspar said.

As Texas State prepares for a road test Saturday at UT Rio Grande Valley, Sule said it feels great to contribute to the team, its 9-1 record and its seven-game winning streak.

“It’s very exciting,” he said. “Really, winning is the most important thing. It’s been a good experience. I’m just feeling more comfortable in the system.”

Growing up in Cameroon, Sule moved to Texas, where he played his last two seasons of high school at Katy Cinco Ranch in the Houston area.

He said he talked to Brown in the Ivy League and also to A&M-Corpus Christi and UT Rio Grande Valley.

But he eventually settled on Texas State, where he sat out last year as a redshirt.

As this season started, Sule was not playing a major role for the Bobcats. At times, it seemed that for every play he made, he was also called for a foul.

Sule racked up 14 fouls in 52 minutes in his first five games.

“Playing defense without fouling is big,” Sule said. “I feel like I’ve gotten better at that. But it was frustrating (at first). I’d come in, and I’d foul.”

In Texas State’s last three games, Sule has come off the bench to wreak havoc on the offensive glass, pulling down nine offensive rebounds in that span.

In the best game of his burgeoning college career, Sule torched HBU last Saturday in San Marcos with career highs in points (23) and rebounds (10).

“I’ve been given an opportunity,” he said. “So, now, I’m just trying to take advantage of it.”

Texas State edges UTSA, 69-68, in Interstate 35 thriller


Texas State players and fans celebrate a 69-68 victory Saturday afternoon at the UTSA Convocation Center.

An impromptu party materialized behind the visitors’ bench at the UTSA Convocation Center late Saturday afternoon.

For fans of the Texas State Bobcats, the celebration likely carried on late into the night following a pulsating 69-68 victory over the Roadrunners.

As for Texas State coach Danny Kaspar, he had other plans.

“I’ll sleep better tonight,” he said.

At one juncture near the end of the game, Kaspar’s team seemed to be coming unglued.

It committed a turnover in front of the Texas State bench, and with 24 seconds remaining, UTSA’s Jhivvan Jackson sank two free throws to give the Roadrunners a 68-65 lead.

Not to be denied, the Bobcats answered with 13 seconds left on a clutch, game-tying, three-point shot from the top of the arc by guard Nijal Pearson.

UTSA, in response, rushed it upcourt with its own star on the dribble.

Jackson, on the right wing, created separation from a defender with a cross-over dribble, but his three-point jumper for the lead rimmed out.

“A shot I take hundreds of times every day,” Jackson lamented.

As for the rebound, UTSA’s Byron Frohnen appeared to get his hands on it, but he lost control, and it caromed off to the side, in front of the Roadrunners’ bench.

From there, Texas State’s Jaylen Shead secured it and started his dribble upcourt.

Suddenly, UTSA’s Keaton Wallace confronted Shead, grabbing at the ball, as a referee whistled him for a foul in front of the UTSA bench.

After a clock re-set, Shead hit the first free throw for the final point of the game with 0.9 seconds left.

Remembering the moment when he heard victory cheers from the Texas State fans, Kaspar admitted that it felt good. He also said he felt fortunate to win, under the circumstances.

In discussing the final, frantic seconds, the coach said, “We got to hit a three to win the game, probably. We hit it. They’re going to have a shot to win the game. They don’t (make it), and we get a foul out of it.

“So, I got to go to church tomorrow and say thank you.”

Records

Texas State 7-1
UTSA 2-6

The I-35 rivalry

San Marcos-based Texas State, from the Sun Belt Conference, broke a two-game losing streak in the series to UTSA. The Bobcats earned a measure of redemption after blowing a late nine-point lead in a one-point loss last year at home. UTSA, from Conference USA, still leads the overall series, 35-25.

Individuals

Texas State — Nijal Pearson, 26 points on 10 of 21 shooting, including 5 threes. Also seven rebounds, a block and a steal. Alex Peacock, 15 points on 5 of 8 shooting. Alonzo Sule, eight points off the bench, on 3 of 6 from the field.

UTSA — Jackson, 22 points on 6 of 18 shooting. He hit 5 of 11 from three. Keaton Wallace, 19 points. Giovanni De Nicolao, 13.


Texas State’s Nijal Pearson steps back and drills a three to tie the game with 13 seconds left.

Pearson’s surge

Pearson, a 6-foot-5 junior from Beaumont Central, continues to play at a high level. He has scored 33, 25 and 26 points in his last three games, respectively.

In torching the Roadrunners, he scored in a variety of ways. On a few of his three-pointers, Pearson stepped back and swished long balls with a hand in his face.

One of his buckets in the first half came on a sweet Euro-step move, when he twisted through defenders and sank a layup (see video below).

Establishing an identity

UTSA had plenty of chances to take charge of the game but shot poorly from the field, hitting only 36.4 percent for the game, including 9 of 25 in the first half and 11 of 30 in the second half.

“We’re taking some baby steps,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “But we got a lot of work to do if we’re going to be a really, really good team. I think we’ve got the pieces to do that.

“We’ve still got to figure out what our identity is going to be. We’re not playing real, real fast. We’re not defending at a real high level. We’re kind of average in a lot of areas right now.

“If we’re going to be a really good team, we need to establish an identity.”


UTSA point guard Giovanni De Nicolao hits a wild runner in the opening minute Saturday against Texas State.

Lamenting the late miss

UTSA guard Jhivvan Jackson, on his three-point shot that rimmed out: “It’s a shot I take hundreds of times every day. I thought it was a great shot, too, and the team wanted me to take it. I took it. It just didn’t fall.”

The foul

Henson seemed to think that Wallace was overly aggressive on the play the resulted in the late whistle, even though calls like that are often times not called at all.

“He went and grabbed the ball with two hands,” Henson said. “There was clearly contact there. It was right in front of me. I didn’t get a great look at it.

“It’s the kind of play, you have to let it go. As much as he wanted to go get the basketball, kinda had to let that one go.”

Pearson leads Texas State into the UTSA Convocation Center

Texas State guard Nijal Pearson drives around Rice’s Chris Mullins Wednesday night in San Marcos. — Courtesy photo by Brooke Adams

SAN MARCOS — Deep down inside, Texas State shooting guard Nijal Pearson always knew he could play at a high level in NCAA Division I basketball.

“I always figured it would come in due time,” the 6-foot-5 junior said Friday afternoon.

Even though Pearson didn’t have the total skill package at Beaumont Central High School, Texas State coach Danny Kaspar said he could see the potential.

“He’s like some of my players at Stephen F. Austin,” the coach said. “They weren’t recruited very hard, and the knock on them was, they were not great shooters.”

On the other hand, Kaspar said he always sees intangibles in some young men, particularly those who excel both in academics and athletics.

He said he tells them honestly that they will need to work on their offense.

“You just knew (Pearson) would do it,” Kaspar said. “He was in, I want to say, the top ten (academically) in his (high school graduating) class. He’s one of our best students here. So, he just competes in every way, shape or form. In the classroom. On the court.

“(He) is very much a competitor. You challenge him about getting in the gym and putting up 400 and 500 shots a day, and he responds.”

The work has paid off for Pearson, who leads the Bobcats in scoring at 21 points per game coming into a weekend road test against the UTSA Roadrunners.

Pearson has emerged as the story of the season so far for Texas State (6-1) as it prepares to play UTSA (2-5) on Saturday afternoon at the Convocation Center.

Tipoff is at 3 p.m.

The Bobcats have won four straight, including three last week at the Portland Classic in Oregon and again Wednesday night at home against Rice.

Pearson scored a career-high 33 in the finale against the Portland Pilots, and then added 25 for good measure in a 74-60 victory over the Owls.

“We’re just having fun playing together, sharing the ball and playing defense,” he said. “For the most part, we figured we were a pretty good team. We knew in the summer time. So, I wouldn’t say we are really high right now. Basically, we’re doing what we’re expected to do.”

Beating UTSA is important to Pearson, who is 0-2 in his career against the Roadrunners.

“It’s a rivalry game,” he said. “I’m excited about playing in it. I don’t think I’ve made my mark in a UTSA-Texas State game yet, so, I’m excited that I get a chance to do that tomorrow. I’m anxious to play.”

Last year’s loss still stings a bit, because UTSA rallied in the last 70 seconds to erase a nine-point deficit and win, 79-78.

Asked what he remembers about last year, he shrugged and said simply, just that the Bobcats lost.

Because of a lock-down defense yielding only 37 percent shooting per game, Texas State would seem to have a better chance this year against the Roadrunners, who have struggled some offensively.

Pearson’s offense, meanwhile, has been consistently good.

He is shooting 52.9 percent from the field, including 53.2 percent from the three-point line. On top of that, he’s averaging 4.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.6 steals.

Pearson is not the same player that shot 43 percent as a freshman and 39 percent as a sophomore.

“I work hard on my game,” he said. “I just kept working. I knew eventually it was going to happen. I just didn’t know when … But, I’m just staying with it. (I’m trying to) focus, letting the game come to me, having fun out there.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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