UMHB men’s basketball overcomes early struggles with notable second half in 79-63 loss to Stephen F. Austin

Above photo courtesy of the UMHB Athletics Department

NACDOGCHES, Texas- With 15:59 remaining in the second half, freshman Braedyn Dawes hit a three-pointer. Then another three minutes later. Before the final buzzer sounded, he had knocked down three more, notching 15 points in his second game with the Cru. 

Though the UMHB men’s basketball team fell 79-63 at the hands of Stephen F. Austin in an exhibition on Thursday, the Crusaders found an additional sharpshooter in Dawes, and managed to go toe-to-toe with a D-I opponent, two major positives in the eyes of head coach Clif Carroll. 

The Cru started the game “playing really well”, getting points from Nathan Stolz, Ty Prince and Carson Hammond as part of an early 6-2 lead. But once SFA put its up-tempo defense into play, the Lumberjacks had little trouble claiming the advantage, shaking off a slow offensive start to mount a 15-2 run. 

“We were executing what we wanted,” Carroll said postgame of the first several minutes. “They really picked up the defensive pressure and it bothered us. We got rattled.” 

The Crusaders turned the ball over nine times between the 15:39 and 7:59 marks of the opening half, which led to 15 first-half points off turnovers for SFA, who took a 44-22 lead at halftime. 13 turnovers, coupled with a 29.5 percent first-half shooting percentage, challenged Carroll’s squad over the first 20 minutes. Additionally, the Lumberjacks used their height advantage in a big way, dominating in the paint. 6’7, 260 lb forward Gavin Kensmil tallied three offensive rebounds along with two points in the first half, and helped SFA tally a total of 42 points in the paint over the contest’s entirety. 

For as much as the Cru struggled in the first half, and early in the second, the visitors from Belton found a rhythm over the game’s final 15 minutes, putting together consistent offense in the second half. A 24-9 run was evidence of that, as a 34-point, 59-25 lead was cut down to 19, 68-49. Josiah Johnson’s pull-up jumper capped the run, as the guard finished with 10 points. In fact, UMHB outscored SFA 41-32 in the second half. 

“We needed to figure out the pressure,” Carroll said of the halftime adjustments. “They were getting a lot of ball pressure at the top of the key and at the guard stops. We had to put ourselves in a better position to run offense. Defensively, we had to stay focused and stay with the game plan. When we did that, we made it tough on them to score.” 

Four of Dawes’ threes came within that 24-9 run, as the freshman rose to the occasion. A 1,000-plus point scorer coming out of Vista Ridge High School, Dawes was a known sharpshooter on the roster, but on a day in which long-range shots were hard to come by, his performance was especially notable. 

“He had no fear,” Carroll said of Dawes. “He went in there, was confident, stepped into his shots and he let it fly. I’m proud of him and the way he played. Hopefully we can get a little more of that.”

Ty Prince was also key in the offensive attack, as the senior forward tallied a team-high 16 points in the loss. Prince shot 6-for-11 from the field and 4-for-4 at the free-throw line, adding three blocks on the defensive end. 

But for as good as Dawes and Prince were offensively, Carroll noted postgame that he is looking for more from his team on that end of the floor. Initiating offense was something the Cru struggled with on Thursday, as well as in the season opener Tuesday, when Southwestern went on a 14-2 run to take a brief lead in the first half. 

“We’ve got to solve the problem of initiating offense against pressure,” Carroll said. “It was tough. Once we got into our offense and were able to move the ball, we found a lot of good things. But we had a really tough time against their ball pressure.”

He noted that the team will work on that facet of the game heading into Saturday’s contest, another road duel at a D-I opponent. UMHB is set to face UT-Arlington in the Mavericks’ homecoming game at 7 p.m. CT, a team that slid past Southeastern Oklahoma State, 68-64, in an exhibition last week and opened the regular season with a loss to Oklahoma State, 88-45.  

“I’ve known Greg Young for a long time,” Carroll said of UTA’s first-year head coach. “He’s been a great mentor. I’ve got so much respect for him and his staff, so it will be an honor to get over there and coach against him in his first year at UTA as the head coach.”

UMHB certainly held its own against the more physically-imposing Lumberjacks of SFA on Thursday night, something Carroll was glad to see from his squad, who unlike its D-I counterparts, is playing quality competition on a mere three weeks of practice. 

“We forget that we’ve only had three weeks of practice,” Carroll said, adding that Thursday’s game was scheduled on Sunday evening. “Taking this game on short notice, I’ll be honest, we haven’t been able to practice some of these things that really hurt us today. With three weeks, we can only pick four or five things that we can really focus on.” 

Those skills are sure to be improved with time, and the bottom line: Carroll liked what he saw from his Crusaders. 

“At the end of the day, we played really hard,” Carroll said. “The things we were supposed to be good at, we were good at today. I feel good about tonight. I think we learned a lot and really got better.” 

Riley Zayas is the managing editor of True To The Cru. His work has been published by several media outlets since 2016, and he can be contacted at rileyzayas@truetothecru.com.

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