By Cassie Logan, UTA Athletics Communications
ARLINGTON, Texas – Saturday afternoon began a journey for the UTA men’s basketball team. As 2016-17 Sun Belt Conference preseason favorites, the Mavericks lifted the lid on their league slate with sights of a future expectation to be met, with the talent and will to exceed it.
The Mavericks (11-3, 1-0) silenced SBC newcomer Coastal Carolina (5-9, 0-1) 90-69 in the programs’ first conference meeting Saturday at College Park Center, their 10th overall win in a row. Just as evident as the hype of Sun Belt competition was the depth and group effort that UTA showcased, a key tool needed for these guys to go the distance.
Six Mavericks scored in double figures, the largest group contribution this season. 31 points were found on the bench, including freshman DJ Bryant’s first 3-pointer of his career. Jorge Bilbao also picked up a double-double on 10 points and 10 rebounds. Kevin Hervey was just one rebound away from a double-double performance. Erick Neal nabbed his third of the season with 13 points and 11 assists, with three steals in 34 minutes. The junior guard nailed a pair of 3’s in the final minute of the first half to lift UTA eye-to-eye with the Chanticleers at 35.
Despite not owning a lead at halftime for the first time this season, UTA rallied together in the second frame to complete the first step toward a SBC title – its first conference win.
In the second half, energy and motivation took over. The Mavericks drew up an early 12-6 run on 71.4 shooting from the floor, 2-of-3 from 3-point range, that later paved the way for nine straight points. In that time, UTA held Coastal to just one rebound.
Statistically, the Mavericks defeated the Chanticleers in nearly every category, winning the battle of the boards, out-shooting, and forcing almost double the turnovers. UTA also set a season record for 14 3-pointers made.
For UTA on Saturday, it wasn’t about how it started, but how it rallied together as a unit to complete the task at hand. In the first, the Mavs shot 32 percent, compared to its second-half surge 57. With a slew of conference matchups ahead, the Mavericks proved their first-place expectation can be met when their tight chemistry and togetherness play out on the court.
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