BELTON, Texas- The UMHB men’s basketball team made history on Saturday afternoon, going undefeated in conference play for the first time in school history, defeating Howard Payne 96-66.
The victory in the season finale resulted in the Cru finishing the season with a 16-3 overall record and a 13-0 in ASC action.
“It’s a testament to the kids,” said UMHB head coach Clif Carroll. “We’ve had some kids have to fight through Covid, we’ve had the snowstorm, we’ve had Concordia’s gym have problems [forcing a game to be moved]. So the fact that these kids have been able to stay ready, focus on what they can control and just be where their feet are has been really impressive to me.”
For UMHB, the margin of victory did not have much significance as the final buzzer sounded. The numbers that were heard soon after the Cru sealed the win were not 96 and 66. It was 13 and 0. In a season where Covid was a constant battle, in a conference with plenty of parity, and with a team that was young, Carroll and his squad found a way to survive the ASC schedule without a blemish to its record. The last time an ASC men’s basketball team did that? 2000-2001 when McMurry went 12-0.
The Cru won the West Division title for the seventh time in program history last Saturday, but on this Saturday, the team made ASC history. Since joining the conference in 1999, UMHB had never gone undefeated in conference play. For that reason alone, this team will always hold a special place in the history of UMHB athletics.
“Being undefeated in the ASC hasn’t happened since the year 2000 and McMurry University [was the one to do it],” said Carroll. “That was Ron Holmes’ team. He’s one of my heroes, one of my mentors and to put my name next to his is pretty special.
“We can’t lose sight of who really built this program. Coach DeWeese left me a program that was ready to win. So I get to drink from the well that has been dug already. Things like that are special to me and staying connected to our past is important to me.”
Entering the contest, 40 minutes away from making school history, Carroll preached the mentality of having reverence for the opponent, noting how much he respects HPU head coach Troy Drummond.
“I’ve got so much respect for Troy Drummond, he’s a good friend of mine and he’s a lot for college basketball in the state of Texas,” said Carroll. “This year just wasn’t their year, but we needed to show respect for Troy and play the game the right way.”
HPU entered the contest 0-17 in the season, and had not been much of a challenge for the Cru in Brownwood on February 6. However, the Yellow Jackets, knowing it was their final game of the season (HPU was eliminated from ASC tournament contention) played with nothing to lose, scoring first and trailing by just five at the 10 minute mark of the first half.
The Crusaders made several attempts to pull away, but HPU held them in check. By halftime, UMHB led by just 10, with the score 42-32.
HPU hung around longer than the Cru would have liked, and the second half began with HPU knocking down back-to-back threes to cut the lead to eight, 46-38. But UMHB found its spark, translating hard-nosed defense into fast-paced offense. The Yellow Jackets could not keep up, as the Cru seemed to take nearly every HPU miss and fire it down the court, resulting in multiple wide-open layups. The lead was within single digits for the first few minutes of the second half, but UMHB quickly pulled away, going up by 21, 63-42, on a long three from Johnson.
A goaltending charge on HPU put the Cru up by 30 with 3:27 to play, and the score 87-57. UMHB would lead by 39 at the 2:07 mark, as guard Darius Musa and forward Jamal Dilworth each drained three-pointers. HPU closed the game on a 9-3 scoring run, but the result was set in stone.
Wing Aedan Welch, playing his final regular season home game, was on the floor for all 40 minutes, scoring 14 points and pulling down six rebounds. It was a rewarding performance for a fifth-year senior who had given so much to the program.
“Aedan is a special dude and I really wanted to give him a memorable senior night,” said Carroll. “I wanted to give him something to remember for all time. When he decided to come back, he said ‘All I want is great teammates’. We got a great group of kids in there. I thought, Aedan is the kind of guy who wants to get his minutes, get his rest, get his water, so how fitting is it to make him have to play 40 minutes?”
A very cool moment unfolded with 26 seconds left in the game when UMHB called a timeout, and the entire team walked onto the court to give Welch a standing ovation. The crowd joined them in giving the Liberty Hill, Texas native, a well-deserved moment of honor.
Forward Ty Prince achieved his first triple-double of the season, with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
“Ty has been flirting with a triple-double for weeks now,” said Carroll. “He’s a multi-talented kind of kid. A guy that has his skills and his size is very uncommon at our level. Ty has worked extremely hard this year and he’s fought through adversity this year. I’ve been proud of the way he’s developed. Even more than that, I am proud of what’s he’s done in the classroom. He put together the best semester he’s ever had academically in the fall and he’s started out pretty good in the spring. The sky is the limit for Ty.”
The Cru will host Concordia on Wednesday in the ASC Tournament quarterfinals. A time for that game has not yet been announced.