EDINBURG — UTRGV and Prairie View A&M shared one commonality entering Wednesday: both teams were playing its third game in three different arenas over a five-day span.
UTRGV stumbled out of the gate, trailing the Panthers by as many as six points in the early going before regaining its footing. Thanks in part to suffocating defense, UTRGV took its first lead amid a 14-3 run midway through the first half. The Vaqueros cruised to a 70-57 win Wednesday at the UTRGV Fieldhouse.
“We don’t use that as an excuse,” UTRGV coach Lew Hill said of his team’s frequent travel. “We have to come out stronger because they (Prairie View A&M) did the same thing. We don’t make excuses for anything. Whatever is put out in front of us, we have to handle. That’s our quote: mental toughness. Because when you’re fatigued, your mind has to take over.”
PVAMU (1-2) won its season opener at Santa Clara last Friday and lost to Baylor on Monday in Waco. Senior guard Gary Blackston dropped 48 points in PVAMU’s first two games, including a game-high 30 in the Panthers’ season-opening win against Santa Clara.
Blackston couldn’t get into a flow offensively, missing four of his five shots and committing three early fouls. Blackston finished with nine points on 4-for-12 shooting.
“We were just aware of where he was,” Hill said. “We gave him nothing easy. We were switching tonight. We were trying to deny the ball and make him work for every single thing. He’s a good player, but our guys did a real good job of changing the defenses and confusing them a little bit.”
UTRGV forward Lesley Varner II recorded his second career double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds to go along with a team-high three blocks, two assists and two steals. Guard Greg Bowie II scored 14 points with eight of his points coming in the second half.
“We just had to stick to the gameplan and keep everything simple,” Bowie said. “We were trying too many things in the first half that kept them close, so we were worried about making the right play. At the time coach (Hill) called my play, I had to finish it.”
The victory gives UTRGV a 3-1 record, which equals the program’s best start since the 2014-15 season when the Vaqueros started the season at 3-0.
UTRGV announced its first signing of the 2019-20 signing class when 6-foot-6 guard/forward Connor Raines put pen to paper on his national letter of intent on Wednesday morning. Raines plays his high school ball at Notre Dame High School in West Haven, Conn.
Hill said Raines’ game and abilities reminded him of Varner II.
“That’s what we want: long, versatile players who can switch a lot on defense,” Hill said. “We want a different type of guard who can play multiple positions. He brings a nice set of skills. He can pass, he can shoot and he’s got a little edge to him. We really like that about him.”
Raines spent most of his childhood in the Northeast, but Hill said Raines is a Dallas native.
“He always wanted to go to school in Texas, but nobody knew that he grew up here,” Hill said. “His mother went to SMU and his sister went to Texas A&M. We’re glad to have him in our family.”