Above photo: Josiah Johnson had another high-scoring performance, with 42 points. Photo of Johnson by Olivia Champion/@byoliviarayn
BELTON, Texas- Clif Carroll knows Concordia well. In his eight years of coaching in the American Southwest Conference, he has become familiar with the Tornadoes’ fast-paced, full-court press style of play.
Which made it, in some ways, relatively simple when it came to figuring out how to beat them. Break the press, and the short-range shots will follow. Limiting turnovers also helps in a big way.
And that is exactly what happened Monday night, as the Cru, ranked No. 19 in the country for the second straight week, rolled to a high-scoring 111-101 victory over Concordia (TX). It is UMHB’s fifth straight victory, as Carroll’s team is 10-1 on the year.
“Concordia is all about the press,” Carroll said postgame. “When they’re at their best, they’re scoring through the press. In the first half, we only had six turnovers. That’s really good, against them. When we lost to them last year, we had 32 turnovers.”
The turnovers were reduced tremendously in Monday’s duel, with the Tornadoes forcing just 15 turnovers, as UMHB repeatedly overcame the full-court press, moved the ball well in transition, and tallied 68 points in the paint. With the exception of a select few five-second violations and bad passes caused by the up-tempo defense, the Crusaders maintained their poise, often getting the ball to Gibson Hearne or Ty Prince in the front court, who then got the ball into the hands of a teammate cutting towards the basket. It was a critical component in UMHB’s 57-38 halftime advantage.
“Having 15 [turnovers[ for the game was big,” Carroll noted. “That means we’re being consistent, and doing a good job of breaking the press. Where we did turn it over, we got inconsistent. We got out of spots when you get set. We got ahead of ourselves a little bit. I was impressed by the guys today. They tried to press us, but we scored.”
A Ty Prince jumper was the source of UMHB’s first lead, a 2-0 advantage 16 seconds into the first half. But Concordia soon countered on Antoine Henderson’s layup just over two minutes later, as the lead changed hands four times over the first 20 minutes of play. A 12-4 scoring run midway through the first half was the point at which the Crusaders first pulled away, as a one-possession, 21-18 lead turned into a sizable 33-22 advantage.
When asked after the victory if there was a particular turning point he saw, Carroll did not note one series of plays, but rather the idea that the limitation of turnovers was going to be the key to achieving the Cru’s fifth conference win of the year.
“I knew as long as we weren’t turning the ball over, we’d be fine,” Carroll said. “We had a couple early turnovers that I felt like we needed to figure out, and they had a wrinkle in their ball screen offense that we had to cover, but as long as we weren’t turning it over, I felt pretty good about winning the game.”
The Cru maintained its 19-point halftime lead in the second half, and extended the advantage on a number of occasions. Josiah Johnson opened the final 20 minute period with a jumper on an assist from Ty Prince, giving UMHB a 23-point lead. It was one of 13 field goals for the junior guard on the night, as he finished with 42 points, and marked the highest single-game scoring performance in program history since Johnson tallied 53 in the last meeting between Concordia and the Cru on February 27, 2021. The performance also tied the second-highest single-game mark in UMHB history, and Johnson is now averaging 28.0 points per game.
Despite shooting one-of-seven from three-point range, the Big Sandy, Texas native converted on all 15 of his free-throw attempts, and shot 13-of-21 from the field.
“It just amazes me that they give him this much room,” Carroll said of Johnson. “Josiah finds the open spot, we find him in good places, and he’s hard to guard.”
A 9-4 run over the first three minutes of the second half all but sealed the victory, though the Tornadoes did mount a 17-4 run with under 3:20 to play, making a contest in which UMHB led by as many as 32, seem much closer, with a 10-point margin.
The week has only begun for Carroll’s squad, who will take on Sul Ross State Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and Howard Payne on Saturday afternoon. Both contests will be played in Belton, and it marks one of two weeks during the conference slate in which UMHB plays three games in a seven-day period.
“It’s always tough to play somebody that you care about,” Carroll, who spent five years as Sul Ross’ head coach, said of Thursday’s matchup. “You kind of find yourself rooting for them, even though you want to beat them. I’m proud of those guys. They’ll be ready for us.”