For the second time in four days on the road, the UTSA Roadrunners faced a team with superior size and quality athleticism at several positions.
In the Utah Utes, they played a team that had beaten the Arizona Wildcats, a top-five opponent, less than two weeks ago.
UTSA raced to an early lead in the first half and then faded down the stretch Tuesday night, falling 91-70 to the Utes.
With 7-foot center Branden Carlson and the Utes defending homecourt at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, they pumped the lead up to 20 points on the Roadrunners for most of the last six minutes of the game, leading by 28 at one point.
UTSA coach Steve Henson, in his postgame remarks, didn’t sugarcoat what happened to his team on the trip. Beaten by 18 at New Mexico on Saturday. Whipped by 21 at Utah.
At the same time, he also was heartened by some good things his team did in both games against opponents that likely will be playing in the NCAA tournament.
“Disappointed we didn’t play better in the second half here,” Henson told UTSA broadcaster Andy Everett. “Our guys practiced so well. I’m so proud of the way they practiced. We traveled. You know, we’ve been on the road here for several days.
“Had a really good practice two nights ago. Had a good practice again last night. They’re doing what we’re asking, for the most part.”
Guard Japhet Medor led the Roadrunners against the Utes, rolling to 23 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Medor, a 6-foot senior transfer from the Florida junior college circuit, also made five steals in a dynamic showing against a Pac-12 Conference contender.
“We’re getting better,” Henson said. “I think we’ve taken some steps here. Both scores were pretty disappointing. But, if we’ll stay together and go back and get to work, I think we’ll keep improving. Different guys are getting a little more comfortable with their roles. That’s what we got to do at this point.”
For Utah, Carlson was the story. The preseason all-conference selection hit 10 of 14 shots from the floor and scored 27 points. He also had eight rebounds, including four on the offensive glass. If that wasn’t enough damage inflicted on the Roadrunners, he also had four blocked shots.
Guards Gabe Madsen and Marco Anthony scored 16 apiece as the Utes (9-2) rallied from a six-point, first-half deficit and won their fifth straight. Anthony, a sixth-year senior from San Antonio Holmes High School, also had 10 rebounds and four assists.
UTSA (5-5) made a go of it early in the game, pushing behind point guard Medor on a 22-4 run. When Medor hit a jumper with 7:05 remaining, the Roadrunners had the Utes down 28-22 and had the home crowd silenced.
“We were playing hard,” Henson said. “That was a big part of it. Kept them off the glass. Didn’t keep them off the glass, kept them from getting rebounds. They were getting shots and there were three guys right around the rim. We had five guys and were able to dig those rebounds out.”
Bethune-Cookman at UTSA, Sunday, 3 p.m.
With the loss, UTSA fell to 0-3 on the road this season, with losses at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, New Mexico and Utah. Roadrunners freshman guard D.J. Richards scored 12 points for his third double-figures game in the last four. Senior center Jacob Germany had 10 points and five rebounds. He was four of ten from the field, completing the road trip seven of 19 afield.
The Utes held shooting guard John Buggs to five points on two of seven shooting.
In losing to Utah, UTSA extended a string of futility against Power 5 conference competition, falling to 0-25 since they beat Iowa of the Big Ten, 62-50, in November of 2009. Since the Iowa game, the Roadrunners haven’t won a game against an opponent from the Pac-12, the Big 12, the Big Ten, the Southeastern Conference or the Atlantic Coast Conference. The loss to Utah puts them at 0-6 against teams from the Pac-12 in that stretch.
Trailing by six, the Utes tightened up on defense in the lane late in the half, reeled off plays on both ends of the floor and surged into a 39-34 halftime lead.
Lazar Stefanovic hit a three and Carlson went inside to hit a layup to cap a 17-6 run for the Utes in the final seven minutes.
It was an impressive opening 20-minutes for Carlson, a preseason Pac-12 all conference pick, who had 10 points, four rebounds and two blocks.
The Roadrunners, sparked by Medor and Richards, attacked on offense and gave the Utes everything they could handle for a five-minute stretch midway through the period.
Medor sparked a 22-4 run, scoring 11 points in the streak. Richards had 10 during the outburst, including a couple of three-point baskets.