Editor’s Note: Above image provided by the UMHB Athletics Department/Thomas Orr
BELTON, Texas- On January 8, just a week before conference play was set to begin, the UMHB men’s basketball team allowed Concordia to earn a win in Belton in the home opener. On Thursday night, the Cru made sure that did not happen, as the perfect ASC record was kept alive and the team earned a 85-74 win over the Tornadoes.
That victory moves the Crusaders to 10-0 in conference and 13-3 on the season. Head coach Clif Carroll, who led Sul Ross State to a conference title last season, has a very good chance to do it with UMHB this year, as the Crusaders are now just one game away from clinching the West Division title.
It was quite an atmosphere inside the Mayborn Campus Center on Thursday evening, as the band was in attendance and so were fans from both Concordia and UMHB. With trumpets sounding and fans on their feet for a large portion of the contest, the two teams put on a show in a game that truly was closer than the final score.
UMHB’s Carson Hammond got a jumper to go just 34 seconds into the first half, putting the Cru up 2-0. Concordia would quickly counter as the lead switched hands multiple times during the first 20 minutes of play. Though the Crusaders shot an impressive 44 percent in the first half, the Tornadoes were just as good, shooting 40 percent, as the lead never to grew to greater than five. By halftime, UMHB led by just three, 35-32.
Ty Prince, who did not play at all in the first half for an unknown reason, stepped up big for the Cru coming out of locker room to begin the second half, as the junior put himself at the center of every play. He looked solid on both ends of the floor early on, feeding the ball to Josiah Johnson for a floater in the paint at one point, and blocking a Concordia shot on the other end just 13 seconds later. In another spectacular play, he drove from the right side of the floor to the basket, leaving his feet as multiple Concordia defenders attempted to get their hands on the ball. He somehow found Kyle Wright wide open behind the arc, as the sophomore drilled a three to give UMHB its first double-digit lead of the contest, 76-65, with 2:20 to play.
It was in those final three minutes that the game was decided. The beginnings of the second half resembled the first in its back-and-forth nature, with Concordia taking a three-point lead of its own, 51-48, with 12:25 left, before Johnson and Hammond each hit long-range shots of their own to put the Cru back in front. Over the final 3:02, UMHB pieced together a 10-3 scoring run, sealing the fate of the contest, and moving one step closer to the goal of a perfect record in conference play.
Concordia was not an easy opponent, as the Tornadoes chased the Cru all over the floor, employing a half-court trap defense and forcing UMHB to play at a fast pace. The Crusaders did turned it over 18 times, but forced 21 of their own, which resulted in 24 points.
Johnson was at the center of UMHB’s offense all night, scoring 27 points along with six steals, four assists and six rebounds. Hammond, a Belton native, was the team’s go-to from three-point range, as he went three-of-seven from behind the arc, including the big three to give the Cru a 53-51 lead with 11:41 left in the second half. Prince chipped in with 11, playing all 20 minutes of the second half.
A rematch in Austin between the Tornadoes and Crusaders is set for Saturday at 3 p.m. CT. It is important to note that sources have said Concordia is having trouble with its facilities due to the winter storm last week, and that a decision should be made by Friday as to whether the game will be played, postponed, or outright canceled.