EDINBURG — Something appears to have gotten into the UTRGV men’s basketball team this week.
After canning 11 3-pointers in a win over Chicago State on Thursday, the Vaqueros followed up with 11 more 3-point makes in a 75-63 win against UMKC (8-15, 3-5) on Saturday at the UTRGV Fieldhouse.
The last time UTRGV made 10 or more 3-pointers in consecutive games against Div. I opponents took place during the week of Dec. 5-12, 2016. The Vaqueros nailed 10 threes against Portland, 13 against Texas State and 12 more against North Florida in what was Lew Hill’s first season as UTRGV head coach.
“We didn’t play our cleanest game in the first half, but we came out and played UTRGV basketball in the second half,” Hill said. “AWD: Attack With Discipline. We were attacking defensively, but now we’re starting to make shots too. We’re attacking offensively.
“The first year I was here, we were attacking offensively and were awful defensively. Last year, we were somewhere in the middle, but now we’re putting it together. The guys shoot it a lot. It’s just about shooting with confidence. Once you start making them, that basket becomes bigger and bigger. They’re gaining more confidence with each game, but the biggest thing is they’re taking better shots now. That’s the key.”
UTRGV entered this week shooting a paltry 28.5 percent as a team on 3-pointers. The Vaqueros canned 22-of-43 threes versus Chicago State and UMKC combined, bringing their team 3-point percentage to 30.8 through Saturday’s game.
UTRGV guard Jordan Jackson, who wears No. 22, scored a career-high 22 points on 6-of-8 shooting in 20 minutes.
“First of all, all glory to God. Without Him and my great teammates, it wouldn’t be possible,” Jackson said. “They found me a countless number of times in transition and in our half-court offense. I was just able to knock shots down.”
UTRGV reserve forward Ndene Gueye had a career night himself down on the block. Gueye hauled in 10 rebounds in 13 minutes of action.
“I felt great,” Gueye said. “I wasn’t looking to score because we have guys that can score the basketball. I had to go in there, get rebounds and was doing the little things like boxing out people and help out on defense. That was my biggest challenge today: go in there and get rebounds.”
“This is what we’ve been challenging him to do: be physical defensively and just rebound every ball,” Hill said. “He was used to scoring when he was in junior college, but I told him right now this team doesn’t need you to score. We need him to be a big, physical presence in the paint and a rebounder. If he keeps doing that, the offense will come. He wanted the offense to come first before he did all the dirty work. He’s starting to get more comfortable.”
Reserve guard Greg Bowie II made five 3-pointers on his way to 15 points. Tyson Smith chipped in with 13 and Lesley Varner II added 10.
Javon Levi equaled his career-high with 12 assists to go along with eight points and five steals. Levi dished out 12 dimes Thursday against Chicago State.
The win puts UTRGV back at the .500 mark overall (12-12) and in conference play at 4-4. The Vaqueros are now all alone in fifth place in the WAC.
“We’re back at .500 and we have the second part of conference coming up,” Jackson said. “Right now, we’re focused on keeping this turning in the right direction. We dropped a couple at home, but now we’ve got two back. Javon (Levi) once again had a great night, but we all played unselfish basketball. Everything’s coming together.”
“Adversity makes us stronger,” Hill said. “Everybody goes through it. It’s how you handle it that makes you a good team. I told the guys to stay together because we’ve been close. Even in those losses, we were playing pretty well. It’s starting to happen. If we keep working hard. it will turn.”
After answering questions, Hill decided to ask one to his daughter, Elle, who was seated to his left.
“How did you like the game?” Lew asked.
“The last 10 minutes were amazing,” Elle answered.