When we last left the UT Arlington men's basketball team, the poor second halves the Mavericks displayed led them to a 1-3 start. In an attempt to right the ship after a demoralizing 0-3 road trip, UTA returned home to face NAIA's Saint Francis from Joliet, Illinois.
The game was similar to what we Mav fans have seen the first four games of the year, a great first half and a lackluster second. UTA raced out to 57-27 lead at the break. And like the previous games, had a second half that was poor. Even though St. Francis is a talented NAIA team, UTA should destroy them if they are at the level we were all hoping for during the offseason. Yet, somehow the Fighting Saints were able to play to a 41-40 second half. Now every Maverick did play, and Erick Neal led the team in minutes with 23, so the second half did see a lot of different players and combos, but one of the supposed strengths of the team is depth. Due to that, I'd expect better in the half. In the end, they won and I suppose that is all that matters.
The team ended their homestand with the Mount Saint Mary's Mountaineers, a team from the Northeast Conference that should be a contender within that conference. Their non-conference record is lacking as they are what UTA used to be, built for conference championships. The team, as has been the course of action this year, took the lead at the half, but with the slimmest of margins possible, 35-34.
At that point, there was a huge worry. With just a point, any lag in the second was a sure loss. In true commanding fashion though, the Mavs left no doubt, opening a 43-34 lead with two minutes gone in the last frame. UTA would maintain a healthy lead for most of the remainder and complete their best second half of the young season, 80-71.
The first game of a three-game road trip sent them to New York City to play Fordham, a team that has struggled in recent seasons, but saw a resurgence last year. Prior to last year's 17-14 record, the Rams had eight straight losing seasons. Their berth in the CIT tournament was the first postseason appearance since the early 1990's. They returned a good portion of their talent this year and were going to be a good test to see if the Mavs had indeed found a better groove.
For the seventh time in seven games, UTA held a lead at the half by two points. It was a relatively low scoring affair with good defensive performances on both sides. Thankfully for UTA, Drew Charles showed up and nailed five three pointers, accounting for 15 of the Mavs 29 points.
After getting two free throws to start, the Rams went on a 9-0 run. Fordham forced UTA to turnover the basketball four times during that run. After four UTA points, the Rams went on another run, 8-3, putting their lead at 44-36. But unlike that three game losing streak, the Maverick offense started making shots. Coupled with some solid defensive plays, a 9-0 UTA run put the Mavericks up 45-44. The teams traded shots and the lead until a Jalen Jones layup gave the Mavs a 52-50 lead. They would never trail again.
The Rams would end up tying the game again at 60, but once again, Jalen Jones came up big, this time with a 3-point shot with 41 seconds left. I was thinking prior to the shot, this game was going to go to the team that got to 65 first. Kevin Hervey hit two free throw shots to get there and the Mavs managed the clock well en route to a 67-63 win.
Next up for UTA is the 3-2 UT Austin Longhorns down in Austin on Tuesday. They started the season 3-0 with wins against Incarnate Word (78-73), ULM (80-59) and Eastern Washington (85-52). The consecutive losses were to Northwestern (77-58) and Colorado (68-54). They have not played since the prior Tuesday and should be well rested.
On Saturday, they travel up to Denton for the what-should-always-be-yearly match-up with North Texas. The Mean Green is 3-3 on the year. After a season opening win against Sul Ross State (85-77), UNT lost to Texas Tech (70-43), Drexel (83-62) and Rutgers (66-53). They have rebounded with wins against Niagra (80-71) and Hartford (81-78). They have a home game against Texas College on Wednesday prior to Saturday's game.
Those two games should give Mav faithful some answers to just how much the team is settling in, especially in the second half.