There’s a moment in every great sports movie, when the central team is facing adversity, where the grind is exhausting, and nothing seems to be working. What follows, is often a coaching moment, a moment of reflection, a guided reminder that the team is better than the effort they’ve been putting out. Each player takes it to heart, internalizing the message, and ups their game for the betterment of the team. The team responds, and they earn the victory. On Tuesday night, with 15 minutes left, that moment happened for the Roadrunners in the Convocation Center.
It was the under-16 minute time-out, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. A personal foul call on Jhivvan Jackson stopped the clock and activated the media stoppage. UTSA (4-3) was hanging on to a four-point lead over Lamar University (1-6), 42-38. From the media section, and quite possibly from anywhere in the arena, UTSA head coach Steve Henson could be heard getting on his guys. The message wasn’t clear to anyone outside the huddle, but it was loud, and concluded with a frustrated Jackson taking a seat on the bench.
When play resumed, Lamar University converted the free-throws to pull within two points, 42-40. From that moment, UTSA scored seven straight points, and ultimately poured it on, outscoring the Cardinals 46-26 from that timeout, winning the game 88-66.
“It was just to play hard and to give a great effort,” Luka Barisic told the media after the game of Coach Henson’s message in the timeout. “He made us believe that we are better, that we can just win that game… For me that’s a great feeling, that someone believes in you. That somebody gives you that push that you need to just get better and get it done.”
“The message at that point,” Coach Henson said of the timeout after the game, “ was really, ‘Do what you’re supposed to do.’… I think they responded. I think they got in the right spots the rest of the game, and certainly was able to pop the game open.”
As a sports fan, you love those storybook moments, the coach inspiring his players to raise their level, and Henson’s players definitely did just that from the first half to the second half.
“We don’t get to see that side often,” Keaton Wallace told the media. “We knew he was frustrated then, so we had to make corrections and fix it.”
At the end of the first half, sloppy was the best way to describe the play by both teams. There were 26 total fouls, and 15 total turnovers, with Lamar University being the main culprit in both categories (17 fouls, 11 turnovers). The Roadrunners, however, were sloppy offensively, shooting just 8.3% from three-point range (1-12), 35.5% from the floor (11-31), and 52.4% from the free-throw line (11-21). When the buzzer sounded at the end of the first half, UTSA had just a three-point lead, having only led for less than five minutes in the period.
Everything flipped for the Roadrunners in the second half, while Lamar continued to struggle with fouls and turnovers, though not as bad as in the first. UTSA found their offense, and recorded improved their field-goal percentage to 65.6% (21-32), three-point percentage to 57.1% (4-7), and converting hitting 72.7% from the foul line (8-11).
Stat leaders for the Roadrunners was nearly a one-man show, with Luka Barisic’s double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds leading the team in both categories off the bench, while Eric Parrish led the team with five assists. The scoring output was Barisic’s career high, and the double-double was also the first of his career. On a scoring note for UTSA, it was nice to see Keaton Wallace look a bit more to form in the second half to finish the game with 12 points, good for second on the team.
As a team, the Lamar University Cardinals only had nine assists and a whopping 20 turnovers. Leading the team with nearly half of their total assists at four was Ellis Jefferson, while Davion Buster continued to be the leading scorer, matching Barisic’s game-high 18 points. Corey Nickerson led the Cardinals in rebounding with seven off the bench.
The Roadrunners finish the month of December on a two-game win streak, evening their season record out at 3-3. The team will have the rest of the month off before heading to Houston to open Conference USA play on New Year’s Day. Per the NCAA’s scheduling format this season, UTSA and Rice will play back-to-back games at Rice, and the Roadrunners will return to San Antonio to host a back-to-back series against the University of North Texas on January 8th and 9th.
UTSA was 7-11 in Conference USA last season going into the conference tournament that would be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.