Above photo of Josiah Johnson by Olivia Champion/@byoliviarayn
LAS VEGAS- In a testament to its resilience, and the clutch shooting of Josiah Johnson, the UMHB men’s basketball team was victorious in the early hours of Thursday morning, defeating Pacific Lutheran, 56-53.
It marked the Cru’s first game at the D3hoops.com Classic, and turned out as a nailbiter, coming down to the final shot, as head coach Clif Carroll’s squad achieved its eighth win of the year.
“Josiah showed why he is one of the best players in the country,” Carroll said postgame. “He stepped up when we needed it most. I just told them to be confident and finish the game.”
The opponents traded three-pointers down the stretch, with Johnson connecting on one, giving the Cru a one-point advantage with 1:55 left, before PLU’s Brett Williams swished home a three to put the Lutes back in the lead.
But the play that changed the momentum inside South Point Arena was not even a scoring play. PLU’s Sean McCurdy lost the inbounds pass with 54 seconds left, to which Johnson dove headfirst, securing the loose ball directly in front of the Crusader bench as a timeout was called. Down two, the Cru had its opportunity.
Initially, it seemed, the turnover did not produce points, as both Gibson Hearne and DJ Kane’s layups rolled off the rim, though the Cru maintained possession on consecutive offensive rebounds. The second of those was pulled down by Kyle Wright, setting up Johnson’s biggest moment of the day. Tightly guarded on the left wing, in front of the UMHB bench, the junior rose up and fired a three. It gave the Crusaders a 54-53 lead with 22 seconds remaining, and though PLU had two late opportunities, UMHB held on for the win.
For as well as the Cru finished the contest, the first half began with anything but a quick start, as PLU opened with an 8-2 lead three minutes in. A Ty Prince three-pointer made it a one-possession game, however, as the Cru remained in striking distance. Trailing 10-7, UMHB forced three straight turnovers, but was unable to capitalize.
“We’ve been in a funk,” Carroll said. “We haven’t had good rhythm or pace for a few weeks. My hats off to PLU. They had a great plan and played their tails off.”
Defense kept the Crusaders in it for much of the first half, holding the Lutes to a scoring drought that spanned 5:48 midway through the period, and allowed them to take their first lead of the contest, 13-12, when Johnson raced up the floor for a right-hand layup.
That lead soon faded, as PLU connected on six consecutive shots late, taking a 26-17 advantage, before the Cru countered with an 8-0 run of its own. Payton Brooks’ driving layup made it 26-25 as the clock ticked down to 16 seconds, and put UMHB in a position to reclaim the lead early in the second half.
A minute into the second half, Johnson’s three-pointer from the top of the arc put UMHB back in the lead for the first time since the 7:40 mark of the first half. But like the first-half lead, it was short-lived, as PLU countered with a three of its own on the ensuing possession.
Following a similar script to the first half, PLU tallied consecutive layups en route to a 48-39 advantage with just over six minutes remaining, as it appeared the unranked Lutes might pull away from the No. 19 Crusaders.
But the visitors from Belton were not about to let that happen.
A Johnson three ignited a 9-0 scoring run from the Cru, who tied it at 48 on a Wright free throw with 2:17 left. McCurdy was allowed a wide-open layup on the other end, though UMHB countered with the first of Johnson’s late three-pointers, setting in motion a thrilling finish.
UMHB returns to action Thursday evening, facing Saint Mary’s at 8 p.m. CT. It will be the first meeting between the two opponents in program history, and can be seen live on Team1Sports.com.
“We will have to do a great job of being physical, but not fouling,” Carroll said of the matchup against Saint Mary’s. “We should be able to score on them. It’s a matter of if we can get enough stops to get the win.”
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UMHB: Johnson (15 pts, 3 reb, 3 steals), Prince (13 pts, 3 reb), Hearne (6 pts, 5 reb, 4 steals)
PLU: McCurdy (15 pts, 8 reb), Thomas (12 pts, 9 reb, 5 assists), Williams (11 pts, 4 reb, 2 assists)