The 2016-17 men’s basketball team has lost four out of the last six games and is ninth in Conference USA. The team has learned that defense is its biggest strength.
Sophomore center Nick Allen’s words brilliantly summarized the men’s basketball season after the tough, grind-it-out 57-51 victory over Southern Mississippi (7-18, 4-9 C-USA).
“It’s not about glitz and glam and who’s starting. When I come to play, I come to play and that’s it.” Allen said after his 14 point, eight rebound performance. He went on to say, “We like to get after it. Defense is our thing.”
The game was televised by Spectrum Sports at the Convocation Center. The Roadrunners were able to edge the Golden Eagles as junior forward Jeff Beverly scored the final six points for his team.
Beverly finished the game with 17 points but struggled early in the first half. However, the team allowed just 10 points in the paint. With Allen’s shooting, Beverly was able to play with confidence down the stretch.
In spite of the Roadrunner’s hard fought victory, the team only shot 33 percent. However, Beverly was not worried.
“Our defense won this game. It wasn’t our offense.” Beverly said. We take pride in our defense. Offense will come.” This game also marks the seventh time UTSA held their opponents under 60 points this season.
Southern Mississippi’s Raheem Watts and Quinton Campbell scored 17 and 16 respectively, but the rest of the Eagles only scored 18 points at a woeful 21 percent shooting.
“I don’t think anyone was surprised that it wasn’t pretty,” Coach Steve Henson said about the game, “Doc (Sadler) did such a good job with those guys. They are always so prepared. We knew this would be a grind.”
While defense was also big in Saturday afternoon’s home game against Louisiana Tech (18-8, 10-2 C-USA), UTSA was unable to outscore the Bulldogs, losing 72-66.
Louisiana Tech’s Erik McCree helped lead his team. The sixth leading scorer in Conference USA finished with 25 points, and shot 6-10 from the three-point line.
As for UTSA, senior center Lucas O’Brien had a career game, scoring 23 points with six rebounds. However, the rest of the Roadrunner players struggled to score. Only Beverly scored in double figures with 12 but shot 4/16 from the field.
In the first half, both Beverly and freshman guard Byron Frohnen were in early foul trouble. Although UTSA trailed by as much as ten, the Roadrunners were only behind by six as freshman guard George Willborn made a last second three-pointer before halftime.
In the beginning of the second half, a Frohnen layup followed by an O’Brien 3 pointer put the Roadrunners down 42-41, but UTSA was unable to lead at any point in the game. The Bulldogs were up as much as 13 and were taking advantage of Beverly’s off game.
With a ten point lead and 4:08 minutes remaining, Louisiana Tech looked poised to end the contest without concern, but the Roadrunners forced a three minute scoring drought on the Bulldogs. A score from guard Gino Littles along with two clutch three-pointers from Beverly put the Roadrunners down by only two in the final minute.
However, a layup from junior forward Omar Sherman and two free throws from McCree were enough for the Bulldogs to avenge their only home loss in six years to a C-USA opponent.
“I was proud of our effort and our fight. We did a lot of things well, but we just didn’t quite make enough plays,” Coach Henson said. “We had a legitimate chance there late. Our guys have hung in there.”
While the last year’s 5-27 team did average more points than this season’s with 72.4 akin to this year’s 65.1, the defense has been this season’s biggest story.
Last season, the Roadrunners surrendered a second to last 82.4 points in the conference and a league worst -11.9 scoring margin. This year, the Roadrunners have a -3.7 scoring margin and a 5th best 68.8 points allowed per game in the conference.
UTSA will play four of their last six home games on a road trip starting in Houston against Rice (17-8, 7-5 C-USA) on Thursday, Feb.16. The men’s final two games of the season will be at the Convocation Center against Charlotte (11-13, 5-8 C-USA) and Old Dominion (15-10, 8-5 C-USA) on March 2 and 4.