Free throw shooting challenges UMHB men’s hoops in 81-72 loss at ETBU

Above photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru

MARSHALL, Texas- It is one thing when the shots are not falling against a defense as proven as ETBU’s. It is another when free throw opportunities cannot be capitalized on. 

On a night in which the UMHB men’s basketball team, 17th in the nation, converted on just seven of 16 opportunities at the line, ETBU pulled out an 81-72 victory in front of its home crowd Thursday evening.

The loss drops the Cru to 7-2 in ASC play, though they currently hold the lead in the conference standings, with LeTourneau and Hardin-Simmons close behind at 6-2.

“East Texas Baptist played a really good game,” UMHB head coach Clif Carroll said postgame. “They were ready to go. They were 7-of-11 from three-point range in the first half, which is way above their average. The atmosphere was unbelievable. A lot of our struggles tonight were because of them.” 

The intensity on the defensive end of ETBU, which limited the Cru to a mere 21 percent from beyond the arc, combined with the self-inflicted errors at the free-throw line were just too much to overcome, though Carroll’s team remained in the fight for the majority of the contest. But an 18-8 run from ETBU over the game’s final six minutes was enough for the Tigers to seal the win.

“You can’t go on the road in an atmosphere like that and shoot from the free throw line like we did,” Carroll remarked postgame. 

The Cru established an early lead in the first half, as Ty Prince scored on the first two possessions for a 4-0 advantage, and had widened it to nine points less than seven minutes in. But the Tigers soon countered, cutting the UMHB lead to a single point twice before a Jayden Williams three-pointer put them in front, 27-25. ETBU held the lead at halftime, 40-37, as consecutive layups from UMHB’s Nathan Stolz with under a minute left kept it a one-possession game.

The score remained close for the first 15 minutes of the second half, as neither team’s lead grew to more than five points. It seemed that both sides had an immediate answer for the offense of the other, but when the clock began ticking down, it appeared the Crusaders had no more punches left to throw. Three missed three-point attempts with under five minutes remaining allowed ETBU’s grabbing of the momentum, as the Tigers pulled away. 

“We had a good lead and we were feeling good about ourselves,” Carroll said. “East Texas really responded. Instead of us doing what we needed to do to extend the lead, we were worried about officiating, we were worried about whatever.”

But the regular season is far from over, as Carroll pointed out postgame, and though a disappointing loss for him and his team, the hope is to apply the learning points from Thursday night moving forwards in the conference schedule. 

“We’ll just continue to get better,” Carroll said. “It’s one of those things, that if the lessons we learned today allow us to win a game in the ASC Tournament or the NCAA Tournament, then the loss isn’t for anything. So that’s what we’re going to do.”

The foundational point in keeping UMHB in contention was the Crusaders’ points in the paint, which numbered 24 in the first half, and 22 in the second. That was notable, especially against ETBU’s post unit, which was led by 6’7 forwards Darry Moore and Charlie Cochran. 

“We knew going in that we could score in the paint,” Carroll said. “When they set up in that three-quarters-of-a-court press, we knew we could attack it.”

Josiah Johnson led the Cru with 19 points, and Ty Prince added 18. Luke Feely recorded a double-double in a 10-point, 10-rebound performance. 

UMHB’s scheduled game on Saturday at Belhaven was cancelled, meaning the Cru have a full week for preparation before resuming ASC play at Ozarks on Jan. 20. 

“This is a sign of a young team that hasn’t figured out how to go on the road and put a team away,” Carroll said. “We will be better, learn our lesson, and keep moving forwards.”

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