Above photo by Luke C. Zayas/True To The Cru
ARLINGTON, Texas- For 32 minutes, the UMHB men’s basketball team stayed in stride with D-I UT-Arlington. A tough eight-minute stretch midway through the second half resulted in a 104-75 exhibition loss on Saturday night, but more importantly, the Cru displayed improvement from Thursday’s loss to Stephen F. Austin and held its own against D-I competition.
In front of a crowd of 3,228, the majority on campus for UTA’s homecoming game, UMHB nearly shocked the Mavericks. The Crusaders were dangerous from the three-point line all evening, held a brief two-point lead in the first half. and at halftime, trailied by just five. They were very much in it as the second half got underway, and while a UMHB scoring drought gave UTA a commanding advantage, UMHB head coach Clif Carroll was pleased with the performance of his squad.
“For 32 of the minutes, we competed and fought,” Carroll said postgame. “I think we won the rebounding battle in those 32 minutes. In the second half, we just had eight minutes where they slaughtered us. But for those 32 minutes, we competed. That’s what you look for when you play games like that, up the weight class.”
Compete they did, as the Crusaders fought back from an early 22-8 deficit at the 12:04 mark of the first half, piecing together an 11-2 run on three three-pointers from guard Carson Hammond. That run cut the UTA lead to six, 25-19, in the matter of four minutes. The opponents traded scores for the next several possessions, with the Mavericks attempting to pull away before UMHB managed to get several stops, translating defense into offense. With just over four minutes until halftime, a missed jumper from UTA guard Pedro Castro was rebounded by UMHB’s Braedyn Dawes, and found its way into the hands of Crusader forward Luke Feely, who was fouled on the shot. Feely converted on one of his two attempts from the charity stripe, as the Mavericks’ lead shrunk to a mere four points, 35-31.
UMHB got as close as three points before halftime, when Nathan Stolz’s layup rolled in with 47 seconds to go, and the Cru entered the final 20 minutes of play down 43-38.
Three-point shooting was what kept the Crusaders in it, as they shot an even 40 percent from beyond the arc in the first half, making up for allowing a 55 percent field goal percentage from UTA.
“I think the three-point shooting was a product of being able to handle the ball better than what we did the other night,” Carroll said postgame. “The ball was moved around, we were finding open guys. [UTA] was putting a big effort into limiting Josiah and Ty, so the other guys stepped up and made shots.”
Hammond was one of those who made shots when they mattered most, connecting on four of his five first-half three-point attempts, including one from nearly 25 feet away. Dawes rose to the occasion for the second straight game, finishing with 16 points, eight of those scored in the first 20 minutes.
“That’s what being a team is,” Carroll noted. “Sometimes teams can guard your two studs, so your other guys need to step up and make the plays. And they did tonight.”
UMHB opened the second half with a Sam Reaves three, making it a one-score game, 43-41, just 38 seconds into the period. But the Mavericks wasted no time getting the ball back down the floor for a Shemar Wilson layup, and a minute later, ignited an 11-2 run that gave UTA a double-digit lead.
The game was won within a seven minute span midway through the second half, as UTA raced away in a 27-9 run. When the dust settled, quite nearly in the blink of an eye, the Mavericks were holding a commanding 95-68 lead.
Defense and rebounding were the keys to a dominating second half, UTA head coach Greg Young noted postgame. UMHB won the rebounding battle in the first half 22-21, but UTA ended up out rebounding the Cru 47-27 by the time the final buzzer sounded.
“We were getting beat on the glass by one at half,” Young said. “We ended up winning it by 20. That’s a pretty good flip. And that’s when we started playing with speed, spinning that ball and our shooters started making shots.”
Young was also very complimentary of UMHB postgame, noting, “Mary Hardin-Baylor is a good team. They won their league last year. They’re picked to win it this year. They played SFA to 14 two nights ago. They have a unique style of play, and they can all shoot the basketball.”
Seeing the chances of victory fade rather quickly in the second half was tough for UMHB to swallow, but Carroll noted postgame how impressed he was with the aggressiveness and energy seen from his squad throughout the contest.
“I think we can learn from this experience that we can play a lot harder,” Carroll said. “We need to clean up some ball screen defense. That was a mess tonight and Huston-Tillotson is going to set a lot of ball screens, so we have to be good there. When you’re playing up a weight class, it really exposes your weaknesses. That’s a good thing.”
Huston-Tillotson is next on UMHB’s schedule, as a road contest in Austin is set for Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. CT.
Offensively, Dawes and Hammond led the Cru with 16 points apiece. Guard Payton Brooks added a career-high 13 points and Prince and Hammond each tallied five rebounds. Prince was also the assists leader, with five.
Riley Zayas is the managing editor of True To The Cru. He has worked as a sportswriter since 2016 and can be contacted at email@example.com.