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No. 22 UMHB men’s basketball aims to improve “competitive spirit” in Thursday’s duel at Ozarks

Above photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru

BELTON, Texas- Losses are never easy to accept. Especially when you lead for more than half of a game that ends up slipping away. But that does not mean a loss cannot be valuable. 

That is exactly the situation UMHB head coach Clif Carroll and the Crusader men’s basketball team finds themselves in, preparing for Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. CT road matchup at Ozarks (3-11, 2-7 ASC). Coming off an 81-72 loss at East Texas Baptist last Thursday, the team’s second loss of the season, there has been a lot of reflection. And the hope is that reflection will spur the Crusaders, the nation’s No. 22 team, as they begin the second half of conference play. 

“We’re still putting together this resume of a championship program,” Carroll said Tuesday. “You’re going to have to learn lessons like this sometimes. You would rather learn them, not having to lose, but sometimes it takes a loss to learn that, even though the record doesn’t look good, you have to come into this game with some urgency.” 

The Cru led ETBU, who entered last week’s game with a 4-4 ASC record, as late as the 8:46 mark of the second half, 60-59, before the Tigers pulled away behind the roar of the home crowd inside Ornelas Gym. UMHB’s seven-of-16 mark from the free throw line did not help the matter, as Carroll stated postgame. 

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

It dropped UMHB to 12-2 on the season, 7-2 in ASC play, though not completely out of the rankings, though the Cru went from No. 17 to No. 22 in this week’s Top 25 Poll. Originally presented with the chance to avenge the loss two days later at Belhaven, the scheduled Saturday matchup in Jackson, Miss. was canceled Thursday. Instead, UMHB traveled back to Belton, and began preparations for tonight’s game against Ozarks. 

“In this league, you can’t take a night off, especially if you’re going on the road,” Carroll said. “You’ve got to be ready.” 

Reflecting on the ETBU loss, Carroll made clear what he expects from his team tonight in Clarksville, Ark.: competitive spirit. It was something the team lacked last week, and from the head coach’s perspective, played a major role in the disappointing defeat. 

“I was disappointed by our competitive spirit,” Carroll said. “I wanted to see us compete. I wanted to see us play hard. I wanted to see us really dig down and get stops when we needed it. Instead we got a lNo. azy reaction, no ball pressure, poor post defense, which led to paint points and free throws. 

“It comes down to competitive spirit. Where’s your fire? That’s something we’ve addressed this week; individually to the players, and also as a team. Hopefully you’ll see a different mojo out of us come Thursday.” 

Ozarks, despite its record, has put together a number of respective second half-performances as of late. The Eagles lead the ASC in free-throw percentage, at 77.9 percent, but have posted the fewest points per game average in the conference, 70.4. 

“We try to take it on headfirst, and find a way to prepare our guys for Ozarks,” Carroll said. “All you have to do is look at the second half of their game against us [in Belton], when they scored 37 points. They’re a team that can play with us. We have to assert ourselves and make sure we’re the more aggressive team.”

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