After they unveiled a spiffed-up gym Wednesday and recognized a handful of folks responsible for the Field House renovations, the Broncs served notice that their roster of basketball players sports a refurbished look as well.
Though they dropped to 1-3 on the young season, the Broncs hung tough all the way against Big 10 foe Northwestern, losing 77-71 to the Wildcats but not without some scary moments down the stretch for the visitor.
Refusing to die on the vine, UTPA (just six wins last year) battled to within three at 1:23 on a pair of free throws by sophomore Aaron Urbanus. The Broncs had been down 74-62, but newcomer Perry Petty led a rally late in the game with a three-pointer and Jared Maree thrilled the crowd of 1,604 with a monster slam during the surge.
The killer on Wednesday was size, or lack of it for UTPA, as Northwestern worked its patient halfcourt set to take advantage of a height advantage down low. The ‘Cats grabbed two offensive rebounds after the lead was whittled to three, and converted a driving layup as the shot clock ran down to go up, 76-71 with 23 seconds to go.
Petty, a shifty 6-1 senior transfer from Santa Clara, led the way with 20 points while Urbanus got 16 despite being hounded all night by the bigger Wildcat guards.
The Broncs were able to compete well despite being way smaller because they shot 57 percent from the field, including 9 of 11 from three-point range. The downside was a minus-6 in turnovers, plus a differential of 18 in NW’s favor in free-throw attempts. Oddly, UTPA outrebounded the enemy by eight, with rugged senior forward Matt Mierzycki getting eight.
Northwestern led all the way after opening the game using its size to push UTPA around and get to the line. But the Broncs got a pair of threes from Petty to hang in there. Urbanus nailed a pair of jumpers late in the half and NW went in with just a 6-point lead.
Every time the Big 10 unit tried to pull away, Coach Ryan Marks’ team rallied. The Wildcats went up 38-29 earlier in the second half until Urbanus and Maree nailed long ones. Maree’s baseline J later brought his team to within one at 44-43 but the visitor had extended to 58-49 by 10:35. Petty, scooting between defenders with speed dribbles and snakelike darts, took control in the last stages, and the Broncs almost pulled one off.
The loss followed a three-game spate in 72 hours starting Nov. 11. The Broncs lost to Indiana State to begin, then beat Eastern Kentucky before dropping one to Loyola of Chicago.
NOTES: Returning starter Maree contributed 15 points against Northwestern with new face Brandon Provost, a sophomore from Katy who comes to the Valley from the Air Force Academy, adding 13.
President Robert Nelsen and many of the university’s administrative leaders were on hand to see the team’s first regular-season game after extensive changes to the Field House, a new floor was installed and the old bleachers were replaced by new green ones, many with seatbacks.
Provost had 17 Saturday in a 13-point loss to Texas State, as the team shot just 31 percent from the floor. The women improved to 3-0 with a win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi before the men played Saturday.