By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
As far as the UTSA Roadrunners were concerned, overtime was winning time Monday night at the Convocation Center. The Roadrunners fended off a late challenge by the Western Illinois Leathernecks and won 78-68 in OT in the season-opener for both teams.
Guard Christian Tucker led the way, scoring 18 points and passing for eight assists.
Forward Trey Edmonds also came up big. In his first game with the Roadrunners, he produced seven clutch points in the extra period, helping to boost UTSA coach Steve Henson to his 100th career victory.
Afterward, Henson discussed with reporters how the Roadrunners steadied themselves to win it in the OT after allowing a five-point lead to slip away — shockingly — in the final 28 seconds of regulation.
“When you’ve got control of the game towards the end in regulation and you lose it in that fashion, you worry about how the guys are going to respond,” the coach said. “They had that shell-shocked look on their face when they came over to the huddle. We were trying to pump ’em back up there, and didn’t really know how they’d respond. Certainly, we did.”
Edmonds, a 6-foot-10, 255-pound transfer from Utah Tech, finished with 15 points and eight boards. Combining with seven-foot center Carlton Linguard, Jr., the twosome provided a formidable new look on the front line for the Roadrunners as they combined for 27 points and 18 rebounds.
Linguard, a transfer from Kansas State, produced 12 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in his first game at UTSA. The former Stevens High School standout, who was in the Roadrunners’ program last season but didn’t play, hit two of five shots from beyond three-point arc.
Additionally, two other transfers in their UTSA debuts played key roles. Six-foot-six senior Dre Fuller Jr. finished with 10 points and seven rebounds, while 6-4 guard Isaiah Wyatt came off the bench for 10 points and six boards.
Wyatt hit an eight-footer off the side with 1:52 remaining, a shot that sparked the Roadrunners on a 6-0 run to end the game.
Much of the conversation between reporters and the head coach afterward centered on Tucker, a 6-3 guard from Arizona who entered the program a few years ago as a walk-on. After being rewarded with a scholarship in the summer, he paid dividends in the season opener, scoring 15 of his points after intermission.
Time and again, he sped around screens, soared to the rim and got fouled. Once at the free-throw line, he made the Leathernecks pay, hitting 12 of 15 at the stripe, including 11 of 13 in the second half and beyond.
“Down the stretch (in regulation) there was a lot of Christian Tucker with the ball in his hands,” Henson said. “(Defenders) were staying at home with guys on the perimeter (and) the bigs (for the Roadrunners) were doing a good job picking.”
As a result, Tucker was able to turn the corner and take it to the basket. In the overtime, UTSA took charge with a size advantage in the post. Tucker dumped it inside a couple of times to feed big men scoring.
Consequently, he finished the overtime with a near perfect line. One for one from the field. Two for two at the free-throw line. Four points. Two assists and zero turnovers.
Tucker credited his friends for creating driving lanes and setting him up to have success.
“I was just really proud of my teammates for staying solid during the overtime,” Tucker said. “A lot of people can fold under pressure when it gets away like that. We stayed (with it) and we’re leaving here 1-0.”
Guard James Dent Jr. led the Leathernecks with 20 points and seven rebounds. It was Dent who hit a three-pointer at the end of regulation to send the game into the overtime. Shay Davis scored 12 points and Jesiah West produced 11 points and 13 boards.
Western Illinois entered the game with the dubious distinction of being one of only 30 teams in NCAA Division I to never reach the NCAA tournament. The Leathernecks are credited in online reference material with playing their first season in 1981-82 — coincidentally, the same year that UTSA started its program.
Last season, Western Illinois finished 16-14 to record the program’s first above .500 record since 2012-13.
UTSA also entered the new season needing to establish some momentum. The Roadrunners have suffered through some discouraging times recently, finishing 10-22 in each of the past two years. UTSA has made it to the NCAAs four times, the last trip coming in 2010-11.
UTSA at Minnesota, 6:30 p.m.
All in all, the Roadrunners had to feel pretty good about themselves going into intermission. Despite shooting 23.7 percent from the field, they still managed to slug it out for a 28-28 halftime tie with the Leathernecks. Wyatt and Linguard scored six points apiece for the Roadrunners, who connected on only 9 of 38 field goals.
On the other end, UTSA displayed a fierce tenacity, protecting the rim and limiting the Leathernecks to 8 of 26 shooting. Shay Davis hit a couple of three-pointers and scored nine and James Dent Jr. had eight. UTSA’s interior defense proved to be more than reliable with Chandler Cuthrell pulling down six rebounds and recording two of the Roadrunners’ four first-half blocks.
UTSA, interestingly enough, scored 225 points in two exhibitions against non-scholarship programs over the past two weeks. Against McMurry last Monday, they shot 55 percent from the field. But for awhile against Western Illinois, they couldn’t get anything going. They started 3 for 20 from the field for 15 percent in the first 11 minutes.
In the end, the Roadrunners finished 4 for 4 afield in the OT, boosting them to 23 of 64 for the game — good for 35.9 percent.
Though their offense didn’t inspire awe, they did a good job preventing the Leathernecks from going on any extended runs. The visitors were held to 29.6 percent from the floor in the first half and finished the game at 32 percent. Western couldn’t get much of anything done at the three-point line, hitting only 21.4 percent. Guard Quinlan Bennett, one of the team’s leading returning scorers, was held to two points on one of six shooting.