By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
Clearly, the UTSA Roadrunners can live with slightly erratic ball handling on occasion, such as last Saturday afternoon when they committed 17 turnovers and still won on the road against the Rice Owls.
In defeating the Owls 89-82 in overtime, UTSA knocked down 14 3-point field goals, competed well on the boards and came up with some key defensive stops for a historic first victory in the American Athletic Conference.
But as the team prepared this week for a Wednesday night AAC road test against the 13th-ranked Memphis Tigers, limiting turnovers emerged as a key focus.
“We have to take care of the basketball,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “On the year, we’ve been respectable in that area. Coming off a game when where we did turn it over a lot — we had too many against Rice — we got to take care of it.”
The coach expressed the idea that if they aren’t careful in making good decisions, it could be a long night for the Roadrunners (7-8, 1-1) against the Tigers (13-2, 2-0) at the FedEx Forum.
“We want some pace,” Henson said. “You know, we’re not afraid to get up and down the floor. That’s kind of who we are. We’re good in that regard, but we can’t have chaos. We can’t have them running off turnovers.”
Fifteen games into the schedule, the Roadrunners remain as something of a mystery.
Though they played poorly a few weeks ago in losing to Army at home, they have notched three decent games in a row, scoring 103 points in a win over Prairie View A&M, losing by two at home to UAB and then rallying from a 10-point deficit in the second half to beat Rice.
Against Rice, 7-foot power forward Carlton Linguard Jr. and Dre Fuller Jr. led the way offensively. Both of them streaky shooters, Linguard scored a career-high 24 points and Fuller added 23. Moreover, Fuller knocked down five 3-pointers and Linguard four.
A few weeks ago, Fuller was at the end of a shooting slump in which he had hit only seven of 36 from the arc over a span of six games. In his last three outings, he has heated up considerably, making 11 of 19.
Linguard, by contrast, has been a respectable percentage shooter from distance (.349) for the season. But in three games before Rice, he had made only 1 of 13 from outside the arc. Against the Owls, he knocked down 4 of 8, including three straight at one point in the first half.
“He’s super talented,” Henson said. “When he knocks down a few shots early, his confidence just grows. We have several guys like him who are a little too hard on themselves at times when things don’t go right and they have a setback. But he’s a talented guy.”
Dre Fuller Jr. has seen a lot of the Memphis Tigers over the years.
As a player for the UCF Knights from 2019-2022, he played against the Tigers seven times. Memphis was 6-1 against UCF in that stretch, but Fuller had his moments, including 14 points in 25 minutes in the AAC tournament at Fort Worth in 2022. Fuller has played at the FedEx Forum in Memphis three times.
“What stands out is the atmosphere,” said Fuller, in his first season at UTSA. “Like, their home court is crazy. It’s loud. It’s going to be rocking in there. Every turnover or missed shot, they’re going to be screaming.
“So, one thing for sure (I remember) is the home court advantage. All I remember is that they play hard and run. We got to match their energy. If we match their energy and play a little bit harder, then we’ll be good.”
Memphis is 120-54 under sixth-year coach Penny Hardaway, including 75-10 at home.
UTSA 7-8, 1-1
Memphis 13-2, 2-0
Charlotte at UTSA, 7 p.m.