Before tipoff on Saturday, the inexperience of the UTSA men’s basketball team was apparent in their record. In 17 matchups, the Runners were 3-14, and 1-3 against Conference USA opponents.
The UTEP Miners, on the other hand, had a more respectable 10-7 record, including two winning streaks of at least four games; however, they came to San Antonio having lost their last two games against conference foes Middle Tennessee and UAB for a conference record of 2-2.
Despite the young Roadrunners’ questionable start, they took major strides by upsetting the UTEP Miners 71-67 in a win that Head Coach Brooks Thompson thinks could give the team a confidence boost.
“Every time you win, it breeds good things. Every time you lose, it breeds bad things, with mentality and things like that,” said Thompson post-game. “I think (the win) is going to give us a lot of confidence going into next week.”
The game ball belonged to Sophomore Christian Wilson, who played a strong all-around game, leading the Roadrunners with 25 points, nine rebounds, five assists, and 39 minutes played.
“It felt good. We prepared all week as a team,” said Wilson. “We just followed up on the plan, and it was a good win for us as a team.”
The game was a tale of two halves. In the first, the Runners struggled with poor shot selection and a lack of communication on defense, allowing the Miners to shoot 7-for-12 from the 3-point line.
UTSA came out after halftime with more poise, emphasizing guarding the perimeter, attacking the basket and drawing fouls. After being outscored by ten points in the first half, the Roadrunners outscored the Miners by 14 in the second.
“The way officials call games now, it’s not as physical of a game,” Thompson explained. “I thought tonight was a physical game, but we wanted to get to the free throw line and get paint touches, penetrate and pitch. We just kept preaching to make plays for your teammates and let the offense work for you, and they did that.”
As a team, the Runners made 18 of 26 shots from the free throw line, an aspect of the game that hindered the Miners as they only made 10 of 19.
Another deciding factor in the game were the rebounds; both teams were neck and neck going into halftime. In the second half, the Runners pulled down 10 more rebounds than the Miners for an overall rebound differential of nine in favor of UTSA.
With 5:35 left in the game, the Runners took their first lead since halfway through the first period as freshman forward A.J. Cockrell snagged an offensive rebound and quickly put it home.
With three minutes left and the game tied at 66 apiece, the game would become a battle of rebounds and costly possessions for the Miners. After UTEP’s Earvin Morris missed two free throws in a row, Wilson grabbed the rebound and made a layup at the other end.
Clutch free throws from guard J.R Harris and center Lucas O’Brien sealed the win for the Roadrunners – their fourth of the season and second against a conference opponent.
In the postgame, Coach Brooks Thompson was proud of the effort of his players as they fought back from the 10-point first-half deficit.
This victory showed that the Roadrunners are capable of making key adjustments and playing with their opponents regardless of their record, which is a key topic to look forward to as they continue their season.
The Runners will look to improve their inner-conference winning percentage to .500 or higher when they play their next two games in front of home crowds against Florida International on Thursday, Jan. 21 and Florida Atlantic on Saturday, Jan. 23.