Above photo by Luke C. Zayas/True To The Cru
AUSTIN, Texas- Facing a 14-point halftime deficit, UMHB head coach Clif Carroll challenged his team at halftime.
And led by a core of returners, the Crusaders responded.
UMHB, the 12th ranked team in D-III men’s basketball, notched its first road victory of the year on Tuesday night, rallying late to claim a 92-87 victory over the Rams of NAIA-level Huston Tillotson.
“We needed to make an adjustment defensively that the new guys haven’t done,” Carroll noted postgame. “So I put five returners in and made the adjustment. Those guys were really tough. They were the ones that made the run, got it back, and ultimately won the game.”
UMHB’s first lead did not come until the 2:43 mark of the second half when Carson Hamond connected on a three-pointer from well beyond the arc, putting the Cru up 80-79. In the moments leading up to that game-changing play, as well as the minutes that followed, Kyle Wright rose to the occasion.
The 5’10 guard made play after play, including a driving layup off the glass with just under seven minutes remaining that tied the score at 77 apiece, as forward Ty Prince placed a perfect pass into the paint.
Wright’s impact continued as the Crusaders fought for the lead in the final two minutes, with the Texarkana native putting UMHB back in front with just over a minute to play on a three-pointer from the left corner. That made it 85-82, but the Rams quickly changed that, as HTU’s Shannon Robinson drove the lane, getting a layup to fall as he was fouled by Wright, who was playing aggressive defense. Robinson made the ensuing free-throw, tying the score once more, before Wright responded.
Though overmatched in height, he got his hands on the offensive rebound after Prince’s floater bounced off the rim, fighting for possession before laying the ball off the glass. It gave the Cru an 87-85 advantage with 34 seconds to play, and a stop on the defensive end sealed UMHB’s first road victory of the season.
“We call Kyle the bulldog,” Carroll said. “He’s tough. He finds a way to get it done.”
Wright finished with seven points in 14 minutes off the bench, as one of a number of players who stood out. Josiah Johnson, who added two key free throws late after HTU intentionally fouled in an attempt to regain possession, tallied 22 points along with three steals in two assists. Prince also had 22, posting a team-high seven assists.
That is the kind of depth that Carroll referred to postgame as being “a double-edged sword.” Facing a full-court trap defense from the Rams, that depth was critical in keeping UMHB in contention. But Carroll added that playing too many guys has the possibility to challenge the chemistry on the floor.
“Depth can be a double-edged sword sometimes,” Carroll said. “Sometimes you can play too many guys. Then rotations and chemistry and things like that get messed up. So we’re still trying to figure out all of that.
“But I don’t think we could have won this game last year, because we just didn’t have enough players [and] the style we were playing [up-tempo, up and down the court]. We were able to sub and keep fresh guys in there [tonight] and when it came time to make a run, we had legs because those guys had a little rest.”
HTU took a commanding 47-33 halftime lead, as the Crusaders struggled to find an offensive rhythm. Carroll used the first-half struggle to motivate and challenge his Crusaders entering the final 20 minutes of play, noting that it takes a “mentally tough” team to win inside Mary E. Branch Gymnasium.
“We had to challenge them at halftime,” Carroll said, “and they came out and responded.”
UMHB, now 2-0, takes its next 10 days off due to finals week, before resuming non-conference play against Arlington Baptist, a National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association Program (NCCAA) on Nov. 27 in Belton. ABU is 1-3 on the season. Tip-off is set for 3:00 p.m. CT.
Riley Zayas serves as the managing editor of True To The Cru. He has worked as a sportswriter since 2016 and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.