By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
First, a bad omen emerged. UTSA point guard Japhet Medor didn’t come out for warmups. Then, the alarm bells, metaphorically speaking, started to go off. A few minutes before game time, Medor stepped onto the court at the Convocation Center, wearing a walking boot on his right foot.
With the team’s leading scorer injured and unable to play on a foot sprain, the end result was all too predictable.
The 24th-ranked Florida Atlantic University Owls, running waves of talented players onto the floor for 40 minutes, rolled to an 83-64 victory over the struggling Roadrunners. The game carried some historic significance for UTSA in that it was the first time in 42 years that it had hosted a ranked opponent on campus.
That sort of novelty was fun for fans to think about initially, in terms of what it could mean if the team could spring an upset. In the end, though, the game turned into just another painful experience, as the Roadrunners have lost five in a row and 12 of 15.
Guards Johnell Davis (14 points) and Alijah Martin (11) came off the bench to spark the Owls to their 17th straight victory. UTSA was within six early in the second half, but, later, a 19-0 run by FAU turned it into a runaway. In the last few minutes, the Owls led by as many as 27 points.
In all, the FAU reserves outscored UTSA’s 44-26. The visitors also crushed the Roadrunners in fast-break and second-chance points.
FAU coach Dusty May said it’s been fun to coach a team with so many talented athletes.
“It’s very comforting knowing the group that’s not starting the game is equally explosive and capable,” said May, who’s in his fifth year with the Owls. “And, they support each other. They share minutes. They share shots. They play unselfishly … When you have players that display those characteristics, it makes it so much more fun to coach.”
For UTSA, senior center Jacob Germany notched a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds in his first game back after missing two with a concussion. Freshman guard DJ Richards had a hot start early in the second half but cooled off and finished with 13 points. Christian Tucker, starting for Medor at the point, scored 11.
UTSA coach Steve Henson said the Roadrunners were hurt in the first half with FAU players tipping out missed shots to create second chances. When the Roadrunners started doing a better job on the glass, they put together a run after halftime.
“Our guards did a better job of rebounding,” the coach said. “On the other end of the floor, we started making one more pass. Got some really good looks. DJ and (John) Buggs knocked down a couple of shots. Just started the second half the right way. I liked what we did for quite a stretch there.”
In response, FAU unleashed guards like Davis, Jalen Gaffney, Michael Forrest and Martin, who all contributed during the 19-point streak. So did 7-foot center Vladislav Goldin. When Gaffney assisted to Martin for a layup with 8:08 remaining, the Owls were up 75-48.
“That run was frustrating,” Henson said. “That’s happened to us on a few other occasions this year. We’re continuing to try to figure out how to offset those. They were just kind of steady. On their end, they’d get a bucket, or two or three. We came down and got the right shot. On many of those occasions, we had decent possessions.
“We had had a pretty good mindset during that stretch, but we weren’t converting. Ball wasn’t going in the hole. It was going in the hole for them. Then we had a stretch where we turned it over a few times in a row, and that’s where it got away from us.”
Though Henson praised Tucker for what he called “an outstanding” effort, the team will be missing a key element of its identity for as long as Medor is out of the lineup. The coach said his starting point guard and leading scorer tweaked the foot late in a practice held on Wednesday afternoon.
“We weren’t out there very long, but probably 15 or 20 minutes from being done, he drove it real aggressively, got bumped and immediately felt it, a foot sprain,” the coach said. “It’s not the ankle. It’s the outside of the foot.
“He’s had some other foot injuries in the past. This one, the feeling was a little different. Pretty concerning to him. We went back and forth today. We thought at one point that if the X-ray came back negative, that maybe he could give it a go. It did come back negative, but he just didn’t feel good enough to go.”
Henson said he’d be surprised if Medor practices on Friday. As for Saturday’s 3 p.m. home game against the FIU Panthers, the coach speculated that it’s doubtful that the 6-foot senior from Florida will play.
“We’ll just have to see how he’s feeling,” the coach said.
Medor is leading the Roadrunners in scoring, averaging 13.7 points per game. He had his career high of 30 on Monday against Rice. Medor is also the team’s leader in assists (3.8) and is tied for third in rebounding (3.5).
FAU 18-1, 8-0
UTSA 7-13, 1-8
FIU at UTSA, Saturday, 3 p.m.
The College of Charleston has the longest winning streak in the nation at 19 after a victory Thursday night against Monmouth. Florida Atlantic’s 17-game streak is No. 2 on the list. Only four one-win teams remain in NCAA Division I — Houston (18-1), Purdue (18-1), Charleston (20-1) and FAU (18-1).
The only other UTSA game in San Antonio with a Top 25 opponent was played in November 1981 against 18th-ranked Arkansas. It was played downtown at the old HemisFair Arena. In UTSA’s first game as a basketball program, Arkansas won, 71-42. In 42 years, all of it in NCAA Division I, UTSA is 1-18 against teams in the Top 25.
Analyzing the first half
The Owls unleashed a quick and athletic backcourt on the UTSA Roadrunners, rolling behind Brandon Weatherspoon, Nick Boyd and Bryan Greenlee to a 46-30 lead at halftime.
Weatherspoon, a 6-4 junior, got off to a fast start and finished the first period with 10 points on four of seven shooting. Boyd added eight points and three rebounds, all while Bryan Greenlee ran the attack with four assists.
Playing without leading scorer Japhet Medor, the Roadrunners simply couldn’t keep up with the conference’s best team.
UTSA was within eight points with eight minutes left in the half, and then suddenly FAU started to sprint away. The Owls ripped off 12 straight points in a three-minute stretch to boost the lead to 39-19.
Christian Tucker, starting at the point for Medor, had a sold half with 11 points, two rebounds and an assist. Germany had nine points and nine rebounds in 12 minutes.
The Panthers struck early Thursday night, combining effective offense and solid defense to build a 23-14 lead with 10 minutes left in the first half.
Brandon Weatherspoon hit three of four shots and had eight points. Guard Alijah Martin contributed a highlight when he ran the floor on the fast break and threw down a ferocious dunk.
The Roadrunners started the game with Christian Tucker at the point in place of Medor, flanked by John Buggs III and DJ Richards. Massal Diouf and Aleu Aleu started at the two inside positions.
FAU guard Alijah Martin soars for a first-half dunk. https://t.co/hyCDEtJ4sq pic.twitter.com/WF6bUyRLYB
— Jerry Briggs (@JerryBriggs) January 20, 2023