GAME NOTES: Playing against each other for just the second time ever, the Denver Pioneers and the Roadrunners of Texas-San Antonio get together for a Western Athletic Conference bout at the Convocation Center on Thursday night.
Denver crushed the Roadrunners in the first meeting earlier this month in a 75-50 final at Magness Arena, as Marcus Byrd scored 12 points, leading four players in double figures for the hosts, with Royce O'Neale recording a double-double with 10 points and as many rebounds. Jeromie Hill, who is now out of action with a bruised left knee, came up with 13 points and nine rebounds for UTSA.
The Roadrunners have not had much luck during their transition from the Southland Conference to the WAC, winning just once in nine opportunities thus far. The team managed to slip by Seattle by three points (78-75) last week at Key Arena, but on Saturday it was right back to the loss column for the team in a 74-70 setback versus Idaho in Moscow.
While UTSA is tied with Seattle for the last spot in the WAC standings, Denver is at the other end of the list with seven wins in nine chances, putting the Pioneers in a tie for second place with New Mexico State, just behind Louisiana Tech which has yet to bow in league play.
Denver was also a team streaking along since losing the conference opener to the aforementioned Bulldogs (68-60) back on Dec. 29, winning seven straight outings before being taken out by New Mexico State in Las Cruces, 53-42, back on Jan. 23. The scoring effort by the Pioneers was by far their lowest of the season.
The Pioneers didn't have a single double-digit scorer in their meeting with New Mexico State last week, which shouldn't be surprising given that the team scored a season-low 42 points and had almost as many turnovers (15) as field goals (18). Royce O'Neale, Chris Udofia and Jalen Love all tallied nine points, but also combined for 11 miscues along the way for a group that shot a mere 3-of-18 behind the three-point line and went to the free-throw line just four times. One of the toughest defenses in the country, allowing 54.6 ppg on the season, Denver has dialed up the pressure even more in conference games, permitting only 50.3 ppg as opponents shoot 38.1 percent from the floor. Unfortunately, the Pioneers aren't exactly a scoring machine as they generate 61.2 ppg versus the rest of the WAC, with Udofia (11.3 ppg) and Chase Hallam (10.4 ppg) typically among the team leaders in scoring from one game to the next.
For the fourth straight outing the Roadrunners were involved in a game that was decided by four points or less and unfortunately it turned into a third setback for the squad as it bowed to Idaho on the road Saturday. While utilizing only two reserves, UTSA certainly made things interesting thanks to Michael Hale III who had his third straight game with at least 20 points as he dropped in a team-best 21, hitting 5-of-11 shots beyond the arc, while also handing out seven assists in the losing cause. Kannon Burrage responded with 16 points, Edrico McGregor and Hyjii Thomas 10 apiece, while Jordan Sims came up a point shy of a double-double with his 11 rebounds. Burrage leads the team in scoring at the moment with his 17.9 ppg, although his 36.8 percent shooting is not very encouraging. Hale III checks in with 16.4 ppg and is also first with 64 assists, but still his efforts to direct the offense have not met with much success.
Coming close just doesn't cut it and even though there is reason for the Roadrunners to be optimistic, Denver completely dominated their first meeting of the season and chances are not much will change this time around.
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