UTSA picks up its first victory, racing past Wiley College, 90-68

Freshman point guard Erik Czumbel on Friday night shrugged off the pressure of making his first start in college basketball.

He just played his game, guiding the UTSA Roadrunners to their first victory of the season, a 90-68 win over the NAIA Wiley College Wildcats.

Afterward, the 6-foot-3 native of Italy couldn’t hide his joy at moving into the starting lineup in only his sixth game for the Roadrunners.

“It feels great,” Czumbel said. “It gives me a lot of confidence, and the home crowd gave me energy. It gave all the team energy, especially in the second half.”

Playing its home opener in front of an announced 917 at the Convocation Center, UTSA turned it on after intermission, shooting 54 percent from the field and outscoring the visiting team, 51-37.

As a result, the Roadrunners finally notched a mark in the win column, improving to 1-5.

Coach Steve Henson acknowledged some sloppy play by his team early, which allowed the visitors to stay close.

“Second half, (we) kind of let them hang (around) and then finally at one point, a couple of guys really stepped up,” Henson said. “I thought Atem (Bior) and Keaton (Wallace) stepped up defensively, and Jhivvan (Jackson) got a little more active.

“I thought Erik was terrific all night all night long. When those two or three guys really set the tone for us defensively, our activity picked up and we got some transition, and that kind of allowed us to pop the game open.”

Jackson led the Roadrunners with 31 points on 10 of 19 shooting. Bouncing back from some sub-par outings earlier in the season, Wallace filled the box score with 14 points, seven assists and five rebounds. He also had five steals.

Bior came off the bench for 11 points and six rebounds. But it was the play of Czumbel, who had 10 points, five assists and six rebounds, that had the media on press row talking.

If he can emerge as a steadying force as a starter at the point, UTSA has a chance to make a run for a conference title in March.

Czumbel played well on Monday in a loss at Utah State, which prompted coaches to consider giving him an expanded role against Wiley. He continued to play well in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, and, by Friday, he was the starter.

“Really proud of him,” Henson said. “I thought he did a lot of good things the other day against Utah State. He’s been steady all year in practice. Again, it’s just the impact we think he can have on getting Keaton back to his normal self.”

First-half recap

The Roadrunners hit six 3-pointers in the first half, racing to a 39-31 lead on Wiley College at intermission.

Playing its first home game of the season at the Convocation Center, UTSA nailed 6 of 18 from long distance and out-rebounded the Wildcats, 27-15.

Nine offensive rebounds for the Roadrunners contributed to a 22-5 advantage in second-chance points.


UTSA 1-5
Wiley 2-2


The Roadrunners are 3-1 in home openers under Henson.

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.