San Antonio – St. Mary’s once-hefty lead had dwindled in a hurry Saturday, leaving the Rattlers in need of discovering the kind of offensive spark they enjoyed throughout the first half against rival Incarnate Word. Instead, with the game effectively hanging in the balance with six minutes left, the Rattlers’ men’s basketball team turned the ball over on three straight possessions, helping key Incarnate Word’s come-from-behind, 76-71 triumph at Bill Greehey Arena.

For as crucial a sequence as that proved, the turning point came even earlier, coach Jim Zeleznak said. “I really thought it happened before that,” said Zeleznak, whose squad led by 13 at the break. “We just had an offensive short circuit. We had a five- or- six-minute stretch there where we couldn’t run anything. We just had breakdown after breakdown after breakdown. Even our simplest option we could not run.”

The Cardinals scored 38 points – half their total output – off the Rattlers’ 24 turnovers, sullying what at times was a fine performance from St. Mary’s.

Point guard Josh Orta (So., San Antonio) led the Rattlers with 19 points on 5-of-11 shooting from 3-point range, while Kevin Kotzur (So., San Antonio) and Lamb Autrey (Jr., Cibolo, Texas) added 14 and 13 points, respectively.

Ray Marshall (Jr., El Paso, Texas) led the team with nine rebounds, while Orta added eight and Kotzur pitched in seven.

The Rattlers dominated the glass, outrebounding UIW 38-21, shot a hair better from the floor (51.8 percent to 50.9) and blocked four shots.   But none of that could overcome the one number the Rattlers couldn’t keep a handle on: their turnovers.

“We could not get people in the right spots,” Zeleznak said. “Obviously, that will get better, but I think we had several guys that weren’t ready to play tonight. You wouldn’t think that that would be a problem. But when we went to our bench to put some people in – boy, our production tailed way, way off.”

Despite 12 first-half turnovers, the Rattlers soared throughout the half. Orta hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from three feet behind the line with a tick left in the half, giving the Rattlers their biggest lead of the half at 13.

But things proved tougher in the second half. Incarnate Word finally took its first lead of the period following an and-one from Tracy Robinson that put the Cardinals up 55-54.

Then, after trading baskets, the Rattlers turned the ball over three straight times, leading to three consecutive scoring trips that would give the Cardinals a six-point lead.

The Rattlers twice cut the deficit to two in the final three minutes, including on a 3-pointer from Orta with 2:20 left that left the score 67-65. It wasn’t enough, as UIW held on.

St. Mary’s returns to the court Monday night, when they host another cross-town foe, Our Lady of the Lake University, in the schools’ first ever meeting.

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