SAN ANTONIO — Junior Michael Hale III led five players in double figures with 21 points and UTSA handed UT Arlington its first Southland Conference loss of the season with a 97-88 victory before 2,611 fans at the Convocation Center on Saturday night.
The Roadrunners built an 18-point second-half lead, but they had to withstand a furious rally by the Mavericks. UTA cut the deficit to four with less than a minute to play after making 13-of-17 free throws in the final 3:20, but UTSA held on to ruin the Mavericks’ bid to become the first team to go undefeated in a league campaign since 1974.
The Birds improved to 18-13 overall and finished the Southland slate at 10-6, the best mark since the 2004-05 squad also went 10-6. Meanwhile, UT Arlington fell to 23-7 overall (15-1 SLC).
Hale made a season-high six 3-pointers on eight attempts and was 7-for-11 from the floor overall in topping 20 points for the second time this season. Sophomore Igor Nujic posted 17 behind a 5-for-9 night from the floor and 5-for-7 effort at the free-throw line to register his third double-digit output in his last four outings.
Junior Kannon Burrage also scored 17 on the strength of a 3-of-6 night from beyond the arc and a perfect 4-for-4 performance at the charity stripe, while senior Stephen Franklin shot 5-for-7, including 3-of-4 from downtown, en route to a season-high 15. Junior Melvin Johnson III added 13 behind a 6-for-6 night at the line and he made one 3-pointer to tie Marlon Anderson for second place on UTSA’s career chart (192), which is six shy of the school record.
“Our guys played the game with passion tonight,” head coach Brooks Thompson said. “We made a few errors at the end, turning the ball over, giving them points with the clock stopped, but in the end, we came out with a win.”
In the final regular season Southland game for both teams (both will join the Western Athletic Conference next year) and 63rd all-time meeting, the Roadrunners used the three-ball to score their fourth win in the last five matchups with the Mavericks. UTSA made 16-of-28 (57.1 percent) from long distance, just one shy of the school record, and shot 54.7 percent (29-of-53) overall and 23-of-27 (85.2 percent) at the line.
UTA shot 46.4 percent (26-of-56) from the floor and 31-of-40 (77.5 percent) at the line and it out-rebounded the Roadrunners by 10 (36-26), but the Mavs made just 5-of-21 (23.8 percent) 3-pointers and turned the ball over 17 times, which led to 23 UTSA points.
LaMarcus Reed led all players with 31 points on the strength of a 14-of-15 showing at the stripe, while Jordan Reves posted a double-double of 20 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. Kevin Butler added 17 points.
The Roadrunners took an 83-65 lead with 5:34 to play after senior Alex Vouyoukas made 1-of-2 free throws, but UT Arlington began to chip away at the large advantage, largely at the free-throw line.
After Johnson drained a pair of freebies to give UTSA an 87-69 lead with 4:33 remaining, the Mavericks reeled off eight unanswered points, six coming at the line, to get to within 10.
After a Franklin layup at the 2:26 mark, Reed was fouled on a 3-point attempt and a technical foul was called on the UTSA bench. Reed made 1-of-2 of the technical freebies and then converted the ensuing three to pull UTA to within 89-83 with just under two minutes remaining.
Hale was hacked in the backcourt and made a pair, but Reves was fouled at the other end. He made the first and missed the second, but Butler grabbed the offensive rebound and his layup made it 90-86 with 1:15 left.
Hale then drove into the left side of the paint for a floater with 53.1 ticks left to put UTSA up, 92-86. Reed was fouled and made both freebies, but Burrage promptly was sent to the line and he matched Reed to make it 94-88 with 27.2 seconds remaining on the clock.
UTA misfired on two long-distance attempts and Nujic came up with the rebound and was fouled with 14 seconds to play. He made 1-of-2, and after another missed three by the Mavericks, senior Sei Paye closed out his four-year career at the Convo by making a pair of free throws to provide the final nine-point margin.
“Hopefully, we keep the momentum going,” said Thompson, who has guided the defending Southland Tournament Champions to their fifth consecutive postseason. “It was a great atmosphere going into the tournament, a great primer for what is to come. The eight teams that made it deserve to be there and it will be a battle in each round. We can enjoy this one tonight, but we have to get prepared for a good McNeese team starting tomorrow.”
UTSA opened up a 20-12 lead after a layup and 3-pointer from Nujic and a jumper from the left elbow by Johnson III capped a 12-5 run. The lead grew to 34-22 after Franklin drained a three from the corner and his putback off an offensive rebound with 4:32 left in the half.
Hale III drilled a trey from the top of the circle to push the UTSA advantage to 39-25. He followed a Bo Ingram three with one of his own from the left wing and then found Burrage, who scored 15 in the half, under the basket for a layup to make it 44-28 with just over two minutes till the break.
UTA was 4-for4 from the line and Reves had a pair of baskets to help trim the lead to 49-37 at the break. It was Mavericks’ largest halftime deficit since they trailed Stephen F. Austin, 32-19, on Feb. 15.
The 49 first-half points were the most by the Roadrunners since putting up 54 in the first stanza against Jarvis Christian on Jan. 25 and the most in a league contest since also scoring 49 in the Texas State victory on Jan. 21.
UTSA shot 58.1 percent (18-of-31) and drained nine 3-pointers on 18 attempts in the half, two shy of the season-best 11 in the second half of the Nicholls victory on Jan. 4.
The Roadrunners will be the No. 5 seed in next week's Southland Conference Tournament. UTSA will face fourth-seeded McNeese State (15-14) in the first round at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 7, at the Merrell Center in Katy.