BELTON, Texas- 1:14 in the season opener, Ty Prince hit a fadeaway jumper. Then hundreds of toys showered the court.
UMHB’s first “Toy Toss” game was a grand success on Tuesday night, as hundreds of stuffed animals were donated to McLane Children’s Hospital, and the Cru hit the century mark in a 100-80 victory over Southwestern.
The Cru jumped out to a 15-8 lead early in the contest , but the Pirates of Southwestern came roaring back, mounting a 14-2 run to take a 22-17 lead.
“This has kind of been a two-year problem for us,” Carroll said postgame. “When teams play good defense against us and we’re not making threes, we get frustrated and it affects our effort level.”
However, the Cru came out of a timeout at the 5:47 mark on a mission to reclaim the lead, something they accomplished on a Josiah Johnson three-pointer. 13 seconds later, Southwestern’s Kyle Poerschke committed a turnover before even getting it into the frontcourt, and the ball found its way back into the hands of Johnson, who promptly drilled a second three to put the Crusaders in front 31-27.
It was a lead UMHB held for the remainder of the victory, as the crowd rose to its feet, and made its presence known. With that home court advantage, the offense began to flow in a more consistent way, with UMHB mounting a 14-1 run late in the opening half.
Much of that scoring was credited to Johnson and Prince, who each finished with double figures in scoring. Johnson sparked the run, and ended up with 34 points and four rebounds before fouling out. Prince added 23 points, dishing out four assists in the process.
“Ty and Josiah are just special talents,” Carroll said. “It’s hard to guard those guys for 40 minutes. You’re just not going to shut them out. I thought Southwestern had a great game plan and [head coach] Connor [Kuykendall] did an unbelievable job, coming in here and putting his team in a position to win the game. At the end of the day, Ty and Josiah took over.”
That assessment was evident in the box score, as the duo combined to take 33 of UMHB’s 71 shots, converting on 22 of those. Additionally, 55 of the Cru’s 100 points were scored by either Johnson or Prince.
But with Stephen F. Austin next on the schedule, a Div. I program out of the Southland Conference, the Cru’s depth will be needed more. Sophomore Gibson Hearne had flashes of excellence, leading the team with six rebounds, and Nathan Stolz, despite being challenged early and often in the paint, added seven points in his UMHB debut. And those are just two of the players UMHB may look to as the season progresses.
“Stepping up in competition is good for us,” Carroll said. “But we’re not going to just be able to take the ball, put our head down, and go to the rim. Because athlete for athlete, they’ve got five Tys. We’ve got one.
“We’re going to have to use our scheme. The ball movement is going to have to be a lot better.”
UMHB tallied 19 assists in the win, but also had 15 turnovers. Improving that assist-to-turnover ratio, along with a better defensive effort, are two things Carroll noted postgame that he expects his squad to have corrected by the time conference play kicks off on Dec. 4.
“I didn’t think we rebounded it well, and I didn’t think our assists-to-turnovers was good enough,” Carroll said postgame. “There’s a lot of meat on this bone, where we can get better. By the time we get into conference play, I expect us to be playing better basketball.”
Some of that can be attributed to UMHB’s motion scheme, as it takes time to get the newcomers adjusted and in rhythm. And the Crusaders have a fair number of newcomers this year. In fact, eight of the 14 players who saw action for Carroll’s squad Tuesday were making their UMHB debuts.
“We kind of panicked today,” Carroll added. “If we made two passes, and hadn’t scored yet, it was, ‘Now what?’ We had some flashes where we were really good, moving the ball side to side, and some curls to the rim. Motion teams always look bad early. It takes time to build a motion, it takes time to build our defense.”
UMHB has two days to ramp up for the Lumberjacks of SFA, who opened the season by defeating LSU-Alexandria, 82-73, on Tuesday evening. Not only will the Crusaders be playing a D-I opponent on ESPN+, but they will also be doing it in a 7,000 seat arena.
“Last year, we went to Texas State and it was an absolute mess,” Carroll said. “They’re heads were spinning. It’ll test us. I’ll be interested to see if we can rebound with them and keep our turnovers down. That’s going to be the key if we’re going to give ourselves a chance to compete with these guys.”
UMHB outrebounded Southwestern 37-32, tallying 16 on the offensive boards. Second-chance points will be critical on Thursday, an area that accounted for 19 of the Crusaders’ points against the Pirates.
Though far from perfect, UMHB accomplished both of its goals entering Tuesday’s contest: win the game and get as many toys donated as possible.
“However many it was, it’s a blessing,” Carroll said of the hundreds of toys donated during the game. “To take those up to McLane Children’s Hospital and bless some sick kids, this is what it’s all about. That was the most important thing today; take care of the kids and get the win. We were able to do both. We had a lot of fun.”
Riley Zayas is the managing editor of True To The Cru. He has worked in sports journalism for a number of outlets since 2016 and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.