The Roadrunners men’s basketball team defeated the University of South Carolina Upstate (USC Upstate) Spartans 67-59 on Saturday, Nov. 17 at the Convocation Center. The win improved UTSA’s overall record to 3-1.
“This was a very good and hard-fought win for our program,” Head Coach Brooks Thompson said. “Upstate is talented and well-coached and they execute very well. They are very hard to guard.”
“I was a little disappointed in our start. I thought we were sluggish, but we had several guys step up and make plays late in the first half to get us back into the game. We carried that over into the second half, and I was pleased with that,” Thompson said.
The Spartans surprised the ‘Runners early in the game with a full-court press defense that focused on containing UTSA’s speedy point guard Michael Hale III. The defensive plan was effectively helped the Spartans jump to a 15-4 lead with 7:30 left to play in the first half.
Things only got worse for the home team when Spartans Torrey Craig nailed a three-point shot at the 5:20 mark which extended USC Upstate’s lead to 14 points, 28-14. The Spartans would score 13 points off UTSA’s 12 turnovers in the first half.
“They [USC Upstate] did a great job taking the ball out of Hale’s hands,” said Thompson. “Our guys aren’t used to getting the ball and attacking the defense, and it put us on our heels.”
Hale and the ‘Runners offense appeared lethargic and confused against the Spartans full court press, but eventually, UTSA exposed weaknesses in USC Upstate’s defense. UTSA’s energy changed when forward Tyler Wood took a play out of Head Football Coach Larry Coker’s playbook and completed a full-court pass to a sprinting ‘Runners guard Kannon Burrage. Burrage received Wood’s pass like a ‘Runners wide receiver and completed an uncontested layup.
From that moment, UTSA’s offense exploded with an 11-3 run, with multiple three-point shots from Burrage, forward Jordan Sims and Hyjii Thomas.
By halftime, the Roadrunners cut the Spartans’ lead to only four points, 29-25. The ‘Runners looked calm and confident towards the end of the half.
“We played that bad in the first half and to be down only by four, we knew we had the game and just needed to step up our play in the second half,” UTSA forward Jeromie Hill said.
UTSA’s new found confidence propelled them to eventually take the lead. Hill stole the ball on the defensive end and dribbled the length of the court for a short jump shot, giving UTSA a one-point lead, 32-31.
The lead would exchange hands between the ‘Runners and Spartans in the next couple minutes, but UTSA eventually pulled away behind their 54.5 shooting percentage in the second half. UTSA’s three-point shooting percentage jumped to 50 percent in the second half compared to their 33 percent in the first half.
“Everyone is on the same page,” Hill said. “Last year, we probably would have let that game go. When our backs are against the wall is when we are at our best.”
Burrage led UTSA with 19 points, hitting four of nine shots in the game and seven rebounds. Hill was right behind him in scoring with 13 points, hitting four of his 10 shots in the game and eight rebounds. The ‘Runners amped attitude allowed UTSA to outrebound the Spartans 37-26 for the game.
UTSA center Larry Wilkins added a strong physical presence underneath the boards. This home game was the first that Wilkins participated in since tearing his Achilles tendon last year. Wilkins recorded four points, four rebounds, one assist and one steal against the Spartans.
“It feels amazing to be out here,” Wilkins said. “I thought it was an opportunity I wasn’t able to get, so it’s a blessing.”
“To have Larry [Wilkins] back is something special,” Hill said. “I think he’s more explosive and in better shape this year. He makes 6 feet-11-inch guys scared.”
The ‘Runners will face a tough month-long, six-game road trip. UTSA’s first stop is against the Brigham Young University (BYU) Cougars in Provo, Utah on Nov. 21.