Stephen Franklin

On Wednesday, the UTSA men’s basketball team made its fifth straight Southland Conference Tournament appearance at the Merrell Center in Katy, Texas. The fifth seeded Roadrunners faced the fourth seeded McNeese Cowboys, in a rematch of last year’s conference championship game.

The Runners had a tough test in front of them with current Southland Conference Player of the Year Patrick Richard leading the Cowboys. UTSA forward Jeromie Hill was named to the Second All-Conference team and guard Melvin Johnson III was named to the Third All-Conference team.

The Runners and Cowboys kept the game close in the opening minutes, but the Roadrunners’ shooting warmed up in a hurry. Johnson played a huge role as the 6th man, scoring 15 points off the bench and six rebounds in only 11 minutes in the first half. Johnson was perfect in the first half hitting all five of his shots. Johnson also connected on both of his three point attempts, and three out of his four free throw attempts. UTSA’s defense frustrated the Cowboys and held McNeese’s Richard to only three points in the first half, and the rest of the team shot 24 percent from the floor as UTSA led the Cowboys 30-19.

In the second half, McNeese’s Richard quickly reminded the Merrell Center crowd how he won conference player of the year, by scoring 13 points of his 16 total. The Runners’ shooting cooled and struggled from the free throw line, opening the door for McNeese to climb back into the game. The second half turned into a melee of back and forth buckets between the two teams all the way to the end. The Cowboys’ Dontae Cannon hit two free throws to put McNeese up three points with twenty seconds left in the second half. With six seconds left in regulation, UTSA’s Kannon Burrage hit a clutch three pointer to tie the game and send the it into overtime.

In the extra period, the melee between the Runners and Cowboys only became more intense. Four Runners eventually fouled of the game, and the Cowboys were able to hold off the Runners’ furious try to repeat as conference champions. McNeese State defeated the Runners 78-74. Johnson had 19 points and six rebounds in the game, and forward Jeromie Hill had 12 points and 8 rebounds in the game. Missed free throws hurt the Runners’ winning hopes, as they only 18 of their 32 opportunities.

The early departure for the Runners also symbolizes their departure from Southland Conference competition, as UTSA will now move on to the Western Athletic Conference, or WAC. The Runners will graduate three seniors from this year’s squad; forward Stephen Franklin (12 points, 10 rebounds), center Alex Vouyoukas (5 points, 3 rebounds) and guard Sei Paye (3 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 block).

“It’s a disappointing feeling and an under achieving team. We have higher expectations in ourselves. The bright side is that we have a good nucleus of players and we have high expectations for next year,” Hill said.

“It’s gonna put some hunger back in some (players). I can guarantee you that. I don’t feel that we took a step back by any means, the entire program has moved forward. In my six years here, we have enjoyed our time in the Southland Conference,” said UTSA Head Basketball Coach Brooks Thompson.

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