Hitting the road to face a team with Top 25 consideration wasn’t supposed to be as simple as the way UT Arlington dispatched UTEP on Saturday night in El Paso.
The Mavericks (7-2) took a five-point halftime lead and pulled away from the Miners to earn their best start to the season since 2008, the last year they made the NCAA tournament.
Now the Mavericks return home to face Bradley at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the College Park Center for their final game before a 13-day hiatus for final exams.
Ever since a loss at Louisiana Tech on Nov. 17 — when they let a 10-point halftime lead turn into a 12-point loss — the Mavericks have made it a point to come out of the intermission with more energy.
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“Before we come out in the second half, we do a little thing with our team where we get really excited, scream and shout and rock back and forth so we don’t drop off like we did in the second half vs. La Tech,” Kevin Hervey said. “We’re never going to forget that. So we try to make sure we have energy before we even come out onto the floor.”
In the seven games since that loss, UTA is outscoring teams by an average of 39-33 in the second half and controlling the tempo down the stretch — not something you’d expect from a team with only one senior on the roster.
While Hervey, a 6-foot-7 sophomore from Arlington Bowie, is garnering national attention for averaging 17.7 points and 10.2 rebounds, guard Erick Neal has driven the bus. The sophomore from Dallas Lincoln is averaging 4.5 assists and 12.3 points per game, but it’s the slick way he hands out assists that draws attention his way. A no-look, behind-the-back pass to a charging Maverick is becoming a nightly event.
“It’s not about points with him,” coach Scott Cross said. “For him, it’s about finding shots for our other guys.”
The Braves (1-8) have struggled since a season-opening win over Ball State, having been outscored by 119 points in nine games by a tough nonconference schedule that includes Arizona, Virginia, Seton Hall and Ole Miss. Bradley is led by 6-7 sophomore forward Donte Thomas, who’s scoring 10.2 points per game.
UTA men vs. Bradley
7 p.m. Tuesday