ABILENE, Texas- When UMHB and Hardin-Simmons meet, regardless of the sport, a competitive game can be expected between the two American Southwest Conference (ASC) rivals. Such was the case in Friday’s non-conference meeting between the Cru and Cowboys in Abilene, as UMHB shot its way to an impressive 83-80 victory.
As the game seesawed back and forth throughout both halves, the Cru maintained a consistent approach at the free-throw line, converting 21 of their 24 attempts from the charity stripe. That proved to be the deciding factor, as Hardin-Simmons went just six of 13 from the line.
Carrying the load on offense was none other than the two primary point guards, Josiah Johnson and Kyle Wright, who each scored in double figures. Johnson, with his ability to drive to the lane and knock down fadeaway jumpers, put 30 points on the board, over a third of the Cru’s 83 points. He added seven rebounds, as did Wright, who used his aggressive style to score 19 points, and get around the HSU defenders to pull down a critical offensive rebound late in the contest.
Making his first appearance for the Cru this season, forward Aedan Welch dominated in the paint, registering a double-double with 10 points and a team-high 11 rebounds. Coming into the season, head coach Clif Carroll had big expectations for Welch, who, as a senior, could provide much-needed leadership to this young squad. Perhaps Welch’s biggest moment of the day came with 2:15 left, when he drained a three pointer from beyond the arc, giving UMHB a 78-75 lead. The Cowboys could not overcome the deficit, as the Cru held onto the lead for the remainder of the game.
It was tight from the very beginning, with Hardin-Simmons striking first on a Steven Quinn jumper, before UMHB countered 17 seconds later with a Welch jumper from mid-range. In fact, Hardin-Simmons’ largest lead was 11 points, as the Cowboys attempted to use their home court advantage to break away near the midway point of the first half. The Cru would not have it though, storming back to take the lead at the 2:50 mark before halftime. From that point on, it was neck and neck between the two conference rivals.
Late in the contest, Johnson got turned around on a drive and attempted to pass it, but it ended up sailing right into Carroll’s hands, giving Hardin-Simmons the ball, down one, with a little over a minute remaining. Solid defense resulted in the Cowboys missing two straight layups as they tried to capture the lead, with Welch bringing down a key rebound to put UMHB in the driver’s seat.
If there’s one area in which the Cru need to improve before taking the court against McMurry tomorrow afternoon, it is scoring in the paint. UMHB shot well from the perimeter, but was outscored 30-12 when it came to points in the paint.
However, the season is still young, UMHB is just two games in, and the Cru already look like a conference championship contender. Carroll has his squad on the right path, as was shown in this recent victory over Hardin-Simmons, and the team chemistry to continue to thrive in close games. The road does not get easier, UMHB will play its next eight games on the road, but improvements will continue to made as the team continues to show the kind of effort Carroll spoke of following the loss to Texas State Wednesday.
“Our effort level has to be there consistently,” said Carroll. “I don’t care if we’re playing a JV team. We have to play hard all the time, we have to execute better, and stay together as a team.”
The Cru certainly did that Friday, and will look to continue with that mentality once again when they battle McMurry in Abilene at 3 p.m. on Saturday.