As the UTSA Roadrunners trampled Division II Texas A&M International 89-60 Wednesday night in an exhibition at the Convocation Center, junior Keaton Wallace emerged as the team’s heir apparent at point guard.
Wallace, who has played off the ball for most of his first two seasons with the Roadrunners, handled the point with both precision and flair in a night’s work that spanned 27 minutes.
He did a little of everything well.
As a distributor, he passed for seven assists and didn’t make a turnover. As a defender, he disrupted the Laredo-based Dustdevils with four steals.
Most encouraging, Wallace did all of that while remaining a threat to shoot the ball, scoring 14 points on 4 of 10 from the field, including 2 of 8 from three.
Coming into the season, UTSA had a void to fill with three-year starting point guard Giovanni De Nicolao electing to finish school early so that he could play professionally in Italy.
In the wake of De Nicolao’s departure, UTSA coach Steve Henson has been looking to Wallace and Jhivvan Jackson, plus freshmen Erik Czumbel and Makani Whiteside, as options to play the position.
But it’s clear that Wallace, who brought the ball up court for most of the night in the exhibition, will take the reins when the Roadrunners open the regular season next Tuesday at Oklahoma.
“We’re going to have the ball in Keaton’s hands a lot,” Henson said. “He’s been playing the majority of the minutes at point guard for us. Jhivvan (Jackson), we want to get the ball in his hands. Erik (Czumbel) has been pretty steady there.
“If we need to get Keaton and Jhivvan off the ball, Erik can assume those (playmaking) duties. He’s very comfortable. He’s been a point guard his whole career.”
Wallace, who averaged 20.5 points per game last season, is embracing the opportunity to expand his role.
“Since we lost Gio last year, I decided to take my game to the next level, try to move to the one (guard), try to take on more of a leadership role this year,” he said.
The 6-3 guard from Dallas admitted that the move has been an adjustment.
“At first I was a little uncomfortable because I had to step outside of my shell and, you know, talk more, be more vocal, trying to get the guys more involved,” he said. “But now I’m feeling pretty good, being more comfortable.
“You know, I believe in the guys and the guys believe in me, so we had that trust. So, everything’s going good.”
UTSA's Keaton Wallace drives and dishes to Jhivvan Jackson, who drains a three. The Roadrunners are rolling in an exhibition opener, leading 49-30 at halftime against Texas A&M International. https://t.co/hyCDEtJ4sq pic.twitter.com/F2RUhuU25i
— Jerry Briggs (@JerryBriggs) October 31, 2019
Henson started Atem Bior and Luka Barisic in the post positions, with Byron Frohnen on the wing, plus Jackson and Wallace in the back court. Barisic is a transfer from Highland Community College in Illinois. He is a native of Croatia.
The coach played all 13 players, including walk-on Austin Timperman.
Jackson, Conference USA’s leading scorer last year at 22.9 points per game, played predominantly off the ball and led the Roadrunners with 15 points in 16 minutes. He hit 3 of 11 from the field, 2 of 8 from three and 7 of 8 at the line.
Welcome to Germany, San Antonio. #BirdsUp 🤙 #RunWithUs pic.twitter.com/vC4Vf63m9f
— UTSA Basketball (@UTSAMBB) October 31, 2019
Freshman center Jacob Germany touched off a dance party by students behind press row when he soared for an alley-oop dunk in the second half. Germany, 6-10, from Kingston, Okla., finished with eight points and five rebounds.
As a team, the Roadrunners hit only 43.3 percent of their shots and were out-rebounded 45-39 by the out-sized Dustdevils. But UTSA made up for it by forcing 28 turnovers and holding the visitors to 36.2 percent afield.
Breaking out to a 49-30 lead at intermission, UTSA continued to pour it on and juiced the advantage by as many as 30 three times in the last five minutes.