Greg Selber

With his team up two in the final three seconds Thursday, defending a crucial fullcourt inbounds play, Emannuel Jones had one simple thought. Not, wow, I hope we don’t lose another close ball game. And not, hmm, I wonder how many points I have. But this: “My man ain’t getting’ the ball…no way!”

Jones, the 6-foot-7 senior Bronc, swooped in on successive plays to knock the ball away, burning the clock down to 3/10 of a second left. And when The University of Texas-San Antonio barely missed a last-ditch prayer of a three-pointer, it was Jones and his mates with the narrow triumph, 74-72. Finally!

The University of Texas-Pan American came into its first home game in a month, weary after a brutal 9-game road trip and still smarting after a series of losses at the wire. The Broncs (now 4-7) had dropped four games by a total of 16 points, including two 2-point decisions. This, despite fantastic play from Jones, the Washington D.C. native who had paced the team in scoring and rebounding seven times as Coach Tom Schuberth’s only significant fourth-year man.

As the Broncs thrilled a loud and involved crowd of over 800 at the Field House, Jones was the man, netting the final three baskets and making the key defensive hustle plays as his team held off a rally from the Roadrunners (3-4) to defeat them for the fourth straight time over four seasons.

Jones, who has battled all the way back from a serious internal ailment that robbed him of endurance and part of a year on the court, has averaged 18 points and nine boards a night in his Valley swan song so far, and no effort he has made was bigger then Thursday’s at the finish.

“We wanted to win, bad! We needed it,” said the lean greyhound who popped in 24 points with nine rebounds and four blocked shots. “At the end, we were like, not this time, we’re not going to let this happen again! I just told myself, my man is not going to get the ball, period! We outworked them tonight, plain and simple.”

And work was the watchword for the evening, as UTPA had to deal with the loss of point guard P.J. Turner, declared ineligible before the game. For a young and inexperienced unit, depth has been a problem in the early going, and against an athletic UTSA ball club, starter Nick Weiermiller would have to go the distance, literally.

The 6-1 sophomore, who has slimmed down and grown an inch since his freshman year, played all 40 minutes, turning in a career-best 15 assists along with 11 points. Though he made six turnovers, including one with 35 seconds left, and missed the front end of a 1-and-1 after that, the gutty New Yorker made the plays all night beyond that, and afterward he was plumb tuckered out.

“Well, I had to play 38 minutes against Air Force,” said Weiermiller, who came in averaging 5.6 assists per game. “We had to find a way to get past losing a man, and I knew I was going to be in there the whole way. But I worked out hard in the offseason to improve my endurance, and it paid off tonight.”

A DAMN GOOD BOUT

UTSA was down a man as well for Thursday’s contest, as leading scorer Omar Johnson sat out after having suffered a concussion in practice earlier in the week. That made it an even go, with the Broncs without Florida native Turner, who had been contributing a ton in his freshman season.

The Roadrunners have been one of the best three-point shooting teams in the nation this campaign, having nailed at least nine in their previous six outings. They would hit 10 against Pan Am, but the Broncs answered every shooting spree with patient offense and ferocious defense.

The ‘Runners scored eight in a row midway through the first half to lead, 20-12, but backup post Luis Valera came on to drop in two baskets and draw a charge. He and Nate Hawkins (15 points) were solid on defense all the way, as UTPA dug in against a quick and springy visitor.

After Jones elevated for a slam dunk it was just 24-20 and soon freshman Jared Maree of Houston, filling in ably with Turner gone, connected on a three-ball for the lead, 25-24. Another guy who had a whale of a first half was Valley native Ben Smith. The Pharr North grad came to campus three years ago advertised as a killer shooter, but he has evolved into more of a complete player this season. He did hit a couple of bombs in the half, but was more effective as a passer, flipping seven assists in the first 24 minutes, to end with a career-high 10 for the game.

His nifty wraparound bounce pass to Hawkins down low led to a layup and a 34-27 advantage, as the Broncs enjoyed their best shooting half since the opener against Sul Ross, 51.5 percent; they burned it up at 55 percent for the game, a season best. Jones made an emphatic block at one end and ran the court to finish with a swooping chippie, and when Weiermiller stole a Roadrunner pass and pulled up for a trey, the Broncs led at the half by seven, 39-32.

“We really kept our composure tonight, and I am so proud of this team,” said Schuberth, the fourth-year coach who led the team to 18 wins last year but basically had to start from scratch after graduation robbed him of the nucleus of the 2007-08 club. “I’ve been to the Final Four, the NCAAs, but I have to say, based on what was at stake tonight, what we were up against, this is one of the biggest wins I have seen. We could have cracked a few times, but we didn’t.”

UTPA raced out to an 11-point lead soon after the intermission, but UTSA, fresh off a huge upset win against Rice, was not finished by a long shot. The ‘Runners started to throw down trifectas in bunches, and their pressure harried the flagging Bronc backcourt. Slowly, UTSA crept back in, until Chris Allen’s long one provided the lead at 55-54. With 10:50 left in the game, it appeared that the Broncs were in danger of expiring.

“We tried to rest some of our guys but we just don’t have a lot of depth yet,” noted Schuberth, whose team now heads to the Southern Mississippi Tournament for a match against Weber State Monday. “San Antonio has a great team and they just keep on coming, so we had to try and get our wind and composure back, which we did.”

With every possession meaning something, Weiermiller came up with a fine alley-oop pass to Jones, who flushed it home to regain the lead for the home boys at 8:36. Weiermiller says that playing with the jumping jack from the nation’s capital is a pleasure.

“I know he had some big-time offers coming out of high school,” he noted. “He can really play!”

The Broncs - outside of blowout losses to powers UNLV, Cal, and Air Force - have been in every game this season. They lost by two to Western Illinois and Drake, by five to Wofford and seven to North Carolina A&T. Free-throw shooting has been a problem (60.3 percent) and Thursday the team was just 1 of 8. But they got the key step-ups when needed.

Maree (11 points, seven over his usual clip) was one of the kids rising to the occasion, cranking a three for a 61-57 advantage. Then, fighting fatigue, Weiermiller converted a shot, passed to Hawkins for a deuce, and watched as Maree stole one and went in for an acrobatic hoop. At that stage it was 68-61, Good Guys, with 6:30 to go.

“That was a big run, it really helped us out,” said Weiermiller. “But we knew there was a lot of game left.”

True enough, as the Roadrunners methodically knocked down a pair of threes to get to within one again, at 68-67.

That’s when Jones, who has an immense wingspan, up-up-and-away springs, and plays way stronger than his 190 pounds would suggest, took over. He dunked one home over two defenders on a pass from the perimeter, and then drove the lane for a smooth finger roll. After UTSA answered with a three-point play the old-fashioned way, Jones did it again, leaping into the lane to drop one down for a 74-70 margin.

“I was impressed with the way he drove the ball down the stretch,” said Schuberth of Jones. “I know he was tired but he kept on giving his all, and that’s the kind of effort that this team is capable of.”

After UTSA scored on a layup by Devin Gibson (16 to lead his team), Weiermiller was called for a walk inside the final minute. Morris Smith missed a shot at the tie, and Jones guided the loose ball to Weiermiller, who was hacked and then clanked the free throw with three ticks left.

But Good ol’ No. 10 was not going to be denied, as he then showed senior ferocity with those two condor-like defensive rushes to clinch it.

“I am feeling good these days,” said Jones, who admitted that last season, when he kept getting tired all the time for no reason, he was a bit worried. “They didn’t know what was wrong with me until they did all these blood tests, and found out I had stomach ulcers. It’s OK now.”

He compiled nine points and four boards per in 2007-08 over 22 games, missing considerable time due to the malady. But now, Jones is back on track, and hopes that this win can get the Broncs on a roll as the year turns. After the win, he slammed the ball twice to the ground with a big smile before heading up into the stands to celebrate with the Field House faithful, per the squad tradition under Schuberth.

“We had to have this one, after all those close losses,” he said. “I wasn’t going to settle for anything else.”

NOTES: The Lady Broncs rebounded from a blowout loss to Baylor by taking a pair of wins last week, over Texas Southern and Schreiner; the latter game was at the Field House Saturday, as Teshay Winfrey scored 16 points in an easy 73-36 decision, the Lady Broncs had defeated TSU by nine Thursday.

The 7-5 showing marks the best record at this stage in program history, as Coach DeAnn Craft’s group looks to the Battle at the Border Tourney starting Dec. 28. They will play Albany at 5 p.m. and then face the winner of the Troy-Montana game, the next day.

Winfrey, a 5-foot-6 senior, leads the team in scoring and rebounding this season whole junior Rose Esther Jean paces it in blocked shots and steals.