Vicente Cardenas/ The Paisano
The UTSA basketball team (6-9, 2-0 C-USA) defeated the Charlotte 49ers (10-5, 1-1) 85-77 in a win on Saturday, Jan. 11.
Senior guard Devon Agusi paced the Roadrunners with 22 points and four assists on 8-of-13 shooting to lead UTSA to a 2-0 record in conference play for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
The Roadrunners defeated a strong Charlotte team that previously beat ranked teams such as Kansas State and Michigan. After starting the season 1-4, the Roadrunners are playing their best stretch of basketball.
Agusi said a “desire to win” changed the team’s mentality.
“None of those guys in the locker room like losing,” said Agusi. “We needed to turn something around. Everybody is just concentrating, sacrificing and putting time in the gym. It’s really paying off.”
With stellar defensive play UTSA forced Charlotte to commit 17 turnovers throughout the game, converting them into 23 points.
“We’re getting turnovers, deflections and clean rebounds where we can get out into transition and do some things,” said UTSA Head Coach Brooks Thompson after the game. “Our defense has been pretty good lately, and we got to keep going and keep getting better.”
The forced turnovers were the direct result of UTSA playing tenacious defense. The Roadrunners pressed and used different defensive schemes on Charlotte, forcing the 49ers to take hurried shots and make poor decisions.
“We just wanted to try and throw some different looks at them, so they couldn’t get comfortable,” reflected Thompson after the game. “I felt we had a pretty good game plan, and we beat a pretty good basketball team that is well coached.”
In the first half, UTSA jumped out to an 11-5 lead, forcing seven turnovers in the first six minutes of play. Charlotte would fight back to come within a point with the score 12-11 before UTSA went on an 11-1 run to make the score 23-12.
Charlotte answered with a 7-0 run before UTSA again increased its lead to 10 points, ending the first half with the score 38-28.
UTSA forced Charlotte to commit 12 turnovers in the first half converting them into 15 points.
In the second half, with the Roadrunners leading 42-28, UTSA senior center Edrico McGregor stole a 49er pass and slammed a spectacular dunk to create the game’s best highlight while also asserting the Roadrunner’s dominance.
“It was in the moment; I was feeling it,” said McGregor on the crowd-pleasing play. “I just got to the rim and dunked it instead of laying it in.” McGregor ended the game with 13 points, eight rebounds and one emphatic steal.
“When he (Edrico) puts his mind to it, I don’t see any player in the country that can stop him,” added Agusi after the game. “He’s too physical and quick. He’s an animal for us.”
Later in the second half, the Roadrunners had their largest lead of the night at 20 points with the score 52-32. But Charlotte would push back with a 17-5 run to come within eight points of UTSA.
With the score 57-49, UTSA would go on multiple runs as they staved off any chance Charlotte had at making a comeback, ending the game 85-77.
The Roadrunners shot 49 percent for the game while playing magnificent defense.
“I think they bought into the understanding that playing right and playing hard is the only way to win,” said Thompson. “I think they were fired up and disappointed with our pre-conference record. We’re playing a lot harder, smarter and playing the right way. The results are pretty obvious.”
UTSA is now 5-1 when leading at halftime this season, a stat that will undoubtedly be in their favor as they play tough conference opponents going forward.
“We have a long road ahead. We have no time to relax; it’s time to keep getting better,” said Thompson. “We have to stay confident and keep working and keep doing the things that we’re doing. You never know what happens; you just got to play the game.”
The Roadrunners will try to extend their conference streak as they head to Birmingham, Alabama, to take on the UAB Blazers (11-4, 0-1 C-USA) on Thursday Jan. 16, 7 p.m. at Bartow Arena.