EDINBURG — 2019-20 hasn’t quite been the season the UTRGV men’s basketball thought it would be. The non-conference slate wasn’t friendly as the Vaqueros went 4-9 against a pretty difficult schedule. And considering UTRGV hasn’t played a home game in a month, a five-game losing streak is somewhat understandable.
But, with players like Javon Levi, Jordan Jackson and Lesley Varner II, something was bound to change.
On Thursday night, at the UTRGV Fieldhouse, things did.
Jackson and Varner II had a team-high 17 points and Levi had a 15-point, 12-assist double double as UTRGV beat Kansas City 76-64.
“It feels great,” Jackson said. “We’ve been on the road for about a month and we’ve had some tough games under our belt, but coming home with our home crowd and just the feeling of playing on your home court. There’s nothing better than that, it was special.”
It looked bad early on for the Vaqueros as Kansas City jumped out to a 22-9 lead.
“We started off just missing shots. I thought they came out and they were playing really physical,” UTRGV head coach Lew Hill said. “Our guys were playing too straight up and down, so I told them they’ve got to drop their hips and we’ve got to initiate the contact. We were taking the blow; we’ve got to deliver the blow. Once we started doing that and making a few shots, we got into our rhythm.”
However, UTRGV used a 19-5 run highlighted by Jordan Jackson’s monster jam to take a 28-27 lead. Jackson’s dunk might be the dunk of the year in the WAC. It came off one of the six UTRGV steals on the night.
— UTRGV Men’s Basketball (@UTRGVmbb) January 10, 2020
However, Kansas City took a 35-33 lead into halftime due to Jahshire Hardnett. The reigning WAC Player of the Week scored the final four points of the half to give the Roos the lead going into halftime.
But, from the outset of the second half whistle, it was really all UTRGV. An 11-3 run put UTRGV up 46-39 midway through the second half. Kansas City cut the deficit to four with three minutes left following a Hardnett jumper.
However, back-to-back 3-pointers from Varner II and Quinton Johnson II were the daggers in a big win for UTRGV.
“That was definitely our best second half all year. We’ve been on the road and took some tough losses, but we were playing good teams though,” Levi said. “You want to take care of your home court, so we really put emphasis on trying to come out here and take of home court while giving the crowd a nice little show.”
When Kansas City head coach Billy Donlon looks at the tape from Thursday night, he is going to scream. The Roos gave up 18 offensive rebounds and lost the rebounding battle, 39-27. The 18 offensive rebounds led to 14 second-change points and it was a killer, especially early on when UTRGV held a 9-1 rebounding edge. It is what helped UTRGV over come a sluggish start.
Thursday night looked like the UTRGV team many people thought it would be. And, the Vaqueros have another chance to pick up a conference win when Chicago State comes to town on Saturday.
Just remember that trio: Jordan Jackson, Javon Levi and Lesley Varner II. The Vaqueros go as far as the trio takes them.