UTPA Media Relations
OREM, Utah – The University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA) men’s basketball team (6-26, 4-8 GWC) defeated the Utah Valley University (UVU) Wolverines (12-18, 5-7 GWC) 56-53 in the opening round of the inaugural Great West Conference (GWC) Basketball Tournament at the McKay Center in Orem, Utah.
The No. 5 seed Broncs saw three players in double figures. Junior guard Nick Weiermiller led with 18 points, followed by junior guard Julius Hearn with 11 and junior forward Matt Mierzycki with 10 points. Setting a career high, junior forward Justin Baker led the Wolverines with 25 points.
Utah Valley held the lead for most of the first half with the Broncs trailing closely behind. Entering halftime, it was either team’s game with UTPA down by two, 25-23.
“It was really up and back during the first half. Nobody could stretch out the lead, and we felt like we competed hard in the first half, but we hadn’t executed as sharply as we were capable. We felt that if we could improve our execution a little bit at both ends, we would be there with a chance to win,” head coach Ryan Marks said.
The game was close throughout the second half with five lead changes and ties. In the final two minutes, either team had the opportunity to get the win. With 1:40 left in the game, a jumper by Weiermiller tied the score at 51, but a jumper by UVU’s Baker at the 58 second mark gave the Wolverines their final lead of the night. Once again, Weiermiller answered with a 3-point shot giving the Broncs a 1-point advantage, 54-53. Two final free throws from Mierzycki secured the 56-53 win.
“I think some people will look at our record and might not appreciate the significance of what our guys have done. When you have taken a lot of close losses over the course of the year, at some point, most teams kind of throw in the towel and say we will regroup next year. To these guys credit, they have just kept chipping away. We’ve changed our fortune in close games with the win at North Dakota and here tonight. I couldn’t be more proud of the team for doing something of that magnitude,” Marks said.
Next up for the Broncs is No. 1 seed University of South Dakota, which enters the tournament on a bye. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. (CT) Friday, March 12 at the McKay Center on the Utah Valley University campus.