UTSA’s plans for its final possession against FIU Thursday night didn’t exactly go like Steve Henson drew it up.
But after the results transpired, the UTSA coach wasn’t complaining too much.
Lucas O’Brien hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 9 seconds left on what he later admitted was a busted play to provide the Roadrunners with a wild 69-67 victory over the Panthers at Lime Court at FIU Arena in Miami.
Guard Gino Littles was supposed to be on O’Brien’s spot for the final possession. Littles originally went there before leaving, taking his defender with him and leaving the senior center in place for the game-winning shot.
It continued O’Brien’s recent perimeter surge as he matched his career high with five 3-pointers.
“Teams have been scouting it a little bit more but we’ve been working a little harder to get those open shots for me,” O’Brien told the UTSA radio network after the game. “I feel like I’ve been going pretty well. I’m confident with it and we’re just going to keep shooting.”
O’Brien’s late heroics enabled the Roadrunners to escape after they jumped to a 20-point lead late in the first half before squandering all of the lead against a determined FIU team that was fighting to keep its conference tournament hopes alive.
UTSA (12-16, 7-8) took control with a 23-2 run late in the first half capped by a free throw by George Willborn III that gave them a 43-23 lead with 1:09 left in the first half. During the nine-minute run, the Roadrunners limited FAU to one field goal.
But FIU (6-22, 2-13) refused to fold, running off 11 straight points early in the second half to climb back in. They hit UTSA with another 16-3 run capped by a 3-pointer by Donte McGill that gave them a 63-62 lead with 4:24 left.
The lead changed five more times before the penultimate shot by O’Brien, who said he couldn’t recall his last game winner.
“Heck, maybe in high school,” O’Brien said with a chuckle. “I’ve been here so long I don’t really remember Padişahbet those games.”
O’Brien and Jeff Beverly shared team scoring honors for the Roadrunners with 17 points apiece. McGill scored a game-high 22, including 13 in the second half, to pace FIU.
The victory enabled the Roadrunners to claim their second road victory of the season, snapping a five-game road losing streak since their Jan. 7 triumph at Louisiana Tech. It also ended UTSA’s three-game losing streak and stemmed a recent tailspin where it had lost seven of their last nine before Thursday.
“If you had told me our two road wins would be against La Tech and then a game against FIU, I probably would have doubted you,” O’Brien said. “But we’ll take them.”
The victory clinched UTSA’s spot in the upcoming Conference USA tournament beginning March 8 in Birmingham, Ala. It also ended the hopes of FIU, which dropped its third straight game and 18th in the Panthers' last 21 games.
UTSA hit a 56.7 percent from the field in the first half and finished the game at 50 percent. The only time the Roadrunners have shot better all season came on Dec. 10 when they hit 55 percent against Division II foe Southeastern Oklahoma State.
For the second straight game against FIU, the Roadrunners struggled in the second half as they blew the lead down the stretch before rallying for the victory. UTSA claimed a 57-55 victory in San Antonio on Jan. 14 by holding FIU without a field goal in the final 3:52.
The Roadrunners’ defense came through again Thursday night when they limited the Panthers to one field goal over the final 4:24.
“Their activity and their pressure bothered us in the second halves of both games,” Henson said. “They took us out of our offense.
“It was kind of like we were searching down the stretch. Our guys just plugged away and hung in there and I was really proud of them. They needed that.”
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