UTRGV lacks ‘effort’ in home loss to Rice

EDINBURG — The UTRGV team known for turning its frontcourt pressure defense into easy offense this season has hit a few road bumps over the past two games.

The Vaqueros hosted Texas State last Saturday and Rice on Tuesday, two perimeter-oriented teams that forced UTRGV to play half-court defense instead of a full-court to work with.

Rice was lights out from the 3-point line. The Owls made 8-of-18 from outside (44.4 percent) in their 75-67 win at the UTRGV Fieldhouse.

“I want to apologize to the fans that came out and supported us,” UTRGV coach Lew Hill said. “It’s effort. We didn’t play very hard. We didn’t play very tough. Rice played harder than us. They played tougher than us. That’s not who we are and that’s not what we are.”

“This is simply on us, the players,” UTRGV point guard Javon Levi said. “We weren’t mentally or physically prepared. We weren’t prepared at all. We weren’t listening to the coaches. The coaches give us the game plan to go out and run what they tell us to run, but we’re not running it.”

Texas State made 43.8 percent (7-of-16) of its 3-pointers against UTRGV last Saturday.

“Like I just told the guys, ‘We’re dealing with adversity. Every team’s going to go through it at some point. Ours is now,’” Hill said. “We were one of the top teams in the country and first in our league (in 3-point percentage defense). We’re not getting after people like we should. We’re not getting in people’s face and attacking. I don’t know what the cause of it is, but we’ll fix it.”

Hill named Levi as a co-captain on the team Monday. The significance of his nomination is not lost on Levi, who is a sophomore.

“It feels pretty good to be named a captain of the team, especially as a sophomore with a lot of veteran guys on the team,” Levi said. “I could be looked at as a captain since I’m the point guard. Either way, I have to be vocal and I have to lead.”

“He’s got the ball in his hands. He’s like our quarterback,” Hill said. “He plays so hard, tough and tenacious. I want him to be more vocal because he’s out there almost 32, 33 minutes a game. I wanted to give him the support that he can challenge his teammates.”

Levi was aggressive to start the game, getting to the free-throw line six times in the game’s first nine and a half minutes.

“Coach (Hill) wanted us to attack, so we moved the ball a little bit and tried to get downhill,” Levi said. “If I see a gap, I’m going to try to get a shot in.”

Forward Terry Winn III led UTRGV (7-6) with 12 points on 6-of-13 shooting. Guard Tyson Smith had another strong shooting game (4-of-8) with 11 points. Jordan Jackson and Levi added 10 points apiece.

Rice (5-7) won its first road game of the season. UTRGV will have three days to regroup before it hosts McNeese State at 7 p.m. Saturday.

“We’re going to try to bounce back,” Levi said. “We’ll try to have good practices because good practices eventually lead into good games.”