Nathan Stolz (pictured) had a season-high 18 points in Thursday’s win. Photo by Olivia Champion/@byolivarayn
BELTON, Texas- The depth.
It has been a storyline of the season for the UMHB men’s basketball team, who added a number of transfers and talented freshmen entering the year. But it was not fully seen until Thursday night, when five different players tallied double figures in scoring, as the Cru pulled away from Sul Ross State, 94-81.
“We switched some of the things we do in practice to get ready to shoot the ball,” UMHB head coach Clif Carroll said postgame. “I think it showed up tonight.”
UMHB put together one of its best offensive performances to date, scoring six more points in the second half than the Crusaders did in the first, and shooting 43.3 percent from the field, 42 percent from three-point range.
That exceptional rhythm offensively was perhaps most evident in the Cru’s critical scoring run to close out the opening half, which followed a three-pointer from SRSU’s CJ Jemison, giving the Lobos a 35-32 advantage. With 5:08 to play, UMHB wasted few opportunities on either end of the floor, mounting a 12-0 run that saw Josiah Johnson account for nine of those points. The defensive intensity was recognizable as well, as SRSU missed its final six shots of the half. Carroll’s squad took a 44-35 lead into the half, which gave the Crusaders just enough momentum for a solid second half that opened with a Luke Feely dunk.
“The way that we were able to set the halves, really scoring in the paint, and creating some turnovers, that really set the tone for the rest of the time,” Carroll said.
And they did it without Ty Prince, who entered the game second on the team in scoring at 17.3 points per game. The senior forward was unavailable, but in his absence, several players seized the opportunity, finding a rhythm when it mattered most.
One of those such players was Nathan Stolz, a forward who transferred from John Brown University. Despite seeing plenty of playing time throughout non-conference play, Stolz had struggled in shooting the ball with consistency. But not on this night.
He dished out an assist on the first play of the game for UMHB’s first lead, and two possessions later, nailed a three-pointer that forced SRSU head coach Xavier Webb’s timeout call just two minutes in. That three marked the first of a season-high 18 points for the sophomore.
“He’s playing with confidence,” Carroll said of Stolz. “We had a little talk this week, that we believe in him, and we believe he’s a good player, he just needs to play like it. It was good to see him let loose, not play so tight, and let things come to him a little bit.”
Webb’s timeout did little to slow the offensive attack of the Cru, as UMHB’s Carson Hammond countered a Logan Dixon three, making it a two-possession game. The margin got as wide as 12 points on a Feely jumper before the Lobos began making a comeback, cutting the UMHB lead to just one as part of a 15-5 run with 11:18 in the first half.
The Cru pulled away behind the 12-0 run which closed out the first half, and extended the advantage to as many as 17 in the second half on a Stolz jumper, as SRSU’s fatigue began to show with under 10 minutes remaining. Part of the key in getting defensive stops, which led to scoring, was limiting the Lobos’ chances from short-range, Carroll noted. The visitors from Alpine were limited to just 16 points in the paint, with only four coming in the first half.
“Defensively, we really had to keep them out of the paint,” Carroll said. “We wanted to limit the paint points. That was a big part of what we had to do, and we did a good job there.”
Although SRSU got as close as seven points in the second half, and consistently connected on long-range opportunities, Carroll was pleased with the way his team protected the lead, especially considering the Cru was faced with the challenge of preparing for two completely different styles of play in Concordia on Monday and SRSU Thursday night.
“The two styles of play are so different,” Carroll said. “You got Concordia with the fast-pace, and Sul Ross with the more traditional, slow-it-down [offense]. It’s been a challenging week. And we have another game we need to win Saturday.”
That matchup Saturday afternoon caps a three-game homestand for the Cru, as they face Howard Payne at 3 p.m. in Belton. The Yellow Jackets are 3-10 overall, and 2-6 in ASC play. UMHB is now on a six-game win streak, with a 6-1 mark in conference action.
Johnson led the Cru with 22 points, and in addition to Stolz, Feely added 16 points, guard Gibson Hearne had 15, and Hammond tallied 14. Feely also finished one rebound shy of a double-double with a team-high nine boards.