EDINBURG — The UTRGV men’s basketball had lots to celebrate heading into Thursday’s contest against UT Arlington.
The Vaqueros donned throwback uniforms as a tribute to the 60th anniversary of legacy institution Pan American College’s 1963 NAIA national championship. The game also signaled the start of homecoming week for the university.
The visiting Mavericks played spoiler to the festivities, however, handing the Vaqueros a crushing 64-58 defeat at the UTRGV Fieldhouse in Edinburg.
“We got outcoached. Got outplayed. Got out-toughed,” UTRGV head coach Matt Figger said. “The theme is that Bruce Springsteen song that goes one step up and two steps back. We are our own worst enemies and can’t handle the success. We can’t handle being pat on the back. We had a terrible shootaround today. I didn’t like our chances going into the game. Credit to UT Arlington. They have proven twice that they are better than us.”
Trailing by 19 with less than seven minutes remaining, the Vaqueros erupted offensively to mount a furious comeback attempt.
Led by senior guard Justin Johnson, UTRGV reeled off a 14 straight points to cut it to five with 54.8 seconds remaining. The run was capped by a putback by Ahren Freeman, resulting in an and-1 for the junior forward.
A 3-pointer by freshman point guard Adante’ Holliman following a pair of made free throws by UTA made it a four-point contest with 45.1 seconds remaining.
The rally ended there, with UTA’s Chendall Weaver scoring four straight points to extend the Mavericks’ lead to eight and put the game out of reach.
“You guys know about a 24-hour fly that lives 24 hours,” Figger said. “There is a commercial about it. The old fly is talking to the young fly and tells him not to live his life like he did then he rolls over and dies. Well, we’re like that 24-hours fly. We’ll cruise and play cute and disrespect our opponent and not play with engagement. You see what happened in the last part of it, where we tried to give our best effort and it wasn’t good enough. The obstacle was too far out of reach. Great effort at the end, but you don’t value the game at the 17-minute mark of the first half and then value the game at four minutes in the second half. It doesn’t work like that.”
The Vaqueros struggled out of the gate and were outscored 18-2 through the first seven minutes of the contest. The struggles continued throughout the half, and they trailed 32-17 at the break after shooting 30.4% from the field and 16.7% from beyond the arc during the first.
UTRGV managed to pull within 10 four minutes into the second half on back-to-back 3-pointers by Daylen Williams and Will Johnston.
The Mavericks responded by outscoring UTRGV 21-12 during the next nine minutes, extending their lead to 19 with 6:37 remaining before the Vaqueros mounted their comeback attempt, which fell just short.
Holliman led the Vaqueros with 11 points, adding six assists and four rebounds. Johnston added 11 points, hitting three 3-pointers.
Kyron Gibson and Aaron Cash led the Mavericks with 13 points each, with Gibson adding seven rebounds and eight assists.
The loss drops the Vaqueros below .500, sitting at 12-13 overall. They also fall to 3-9 in conference play with just six games remaining.
UTRGV returns to action at 6:30 p.m. Saturday against Stephen F. Austin at the UTRGV Fieldhouse in Edinburg. The game is a part of a doubleheader, with the women’s team hosting Abilene Christian at 4 p.m.
Prior to the start of Thursday’s game, UTRGV junior forward Daylen Williams was presented the 2023 Sam Williams Endowed Scholarship by members of Pan American College’s 1963 NAIA national championship team.
The award is given to a current member of the men’s basketball team based on academic, athletic and civic merit. Williams, who is in his first season with the Vaqueros, is averaging 5.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per contest.
“Daylen’s a great human being and student-athlete,” Figger said. “He defines everything that is right about the NCAA, and being a student first and athlete second. I’m very proud of him.”
The Sam Williams Endowed Scholarship was established in 2005 in honor of the head coach who led the Broncs to the 1963 NAIA title.