LAKE CHARLES, La. — Junior Melvin Johnson III scored a game-high 18 points, but Patrick Richard and Dontae Cannon poured in 16 apiece and McNeese State held off a late UTSA rally in a 58-54 victory on Wednesday night at Burton Coliseum.
The Cowboys improved to 14-10 overall (10-2 SLC) in extending their winning streak to seven games. The Roadrunners fell to 15-11 (7-5 SLC).
Johnson III made 6-of-12 from the floor, 4-of-8 from behind the 3-point line, to lead UTSA in scoring for the eighth time this season. Junior Michael Hale III and sophomore Jeromie Hill pitched in with 11 points apiece, but the Roadrunners were unable to overcome a tough shooting night, as they made just 34 percent from the field and 61.9 percent at the free-throw line.
Richard posted a double-double, as he grabbed a game-best 12 rebounds, to help McNeese State turn in a 40-34 advantage on the boards. He had four of the Cowboys’ 11 offensive boards, which led to 17 second-chance points. Cannon scored his 16 behind a 6-for-13 effort from the field and 3-of-4 performance at the charity stripe.
The Cowboys led by as many as 11 in the second half, but they had to withstand a late UTSA rally to secure the win. They also struggled from the floor, making just 37.5 percent overall and 19 percent from beyond the arc.
Playing without starting center Alex Vouyoukas (concussion-like symptoms), the Roadrunners grabbed a 30-29 halftime lead in a tight first stanza that saw a half dozen ties and nine lead changes. Johnson III scored 10 of his points before intermission, two more than he posted in two games last week, on the strength of 2-of-3 shooting from downtown.
McNeese opened the second half with a 13-3 run over the first nine minutes and it took a 42-33 lead.
UTSA had just one field goal, a Johnson III 3-pointer, during the stretch before a Hill layup at the 10:34 mark made it a nine-point contest.
Johnson III’s fourth trey of the night cut the deficit to 50-42 with 5:23 remaining and sophomore Igor Nujic knocked down a pair of free throws a minute later to make it a six-point contest.
Richard grabbed an offensive rebound on the Cowboys’ next possession and he was fouled on the put-back. He converted the plus-one to push the advantage back to nine.
The Roadrunners trimmed the McNeese lead to 53-46 after senior Sei Paye converted a pair at the line with 3:47 remaining.
However, UTSA missed a chance to get closer after forcing turnovers on the next two Cowboys possessions, but it missed the front end of a one-and-one and committed a turnover of its own.
Hill blocked a Cannon 3-point attempt with the shot clock winding down, but Rudy Turner grabbed the loose ball and threw up a prayer that bounced around the rim, off the glass and into the cyclinder to give McNeese a 55-46 advantage with 1:28 left.
Johnson III hit two free throws and senior Stephen Franklin made 1-of-2 to pull UTSA to within six with 1:06 left.
UTSA began to foul intentionally and sent Richard to the line, where he made both.
The Roadrunners missed two shots at the other end and then hacked Jeremie Mitchell, who missed the front end, and Hale III drained a trey to make it 57-52 with 17 ticks to play.
The Roadrunners fouled again and McNeese missed the front end. Hale III cleared the glass and weaved his way to a layup that made it 57-54 with 5.3 seconds remaining.
UTSA immediately fouled after the inbounds pass and sent Cannon to the line, where he missed the first but made the second to ice the Cowboys’s first victory against UTSA since Feb. 27, 2008.
The Roadrunners will travel to Atlanta, Ga., to face Georgia State (18-9) in the 10th annual Sears BracketBusters on Saturday. Tip-off is slated for 6 p.m. (CT) at GSU Sports Arena.