Above photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
CLARKSVILLE, Ark.- Competitive spirit. Enthusiasm, Intent.
All were things UMHB head coach Clif Carroll was looking for from his team entering Thursday’s ASC road matchup at Ozarks. And even with leading scorer Josiah Johnson unavailable, the Cru had no shortage of offense or intensity, leading from start to finish for an 85-59 win.
“It all starts with the way we approached the game,” Carroll said postgame. “We approached it with a lot more energy. We approached it with more intent. We approached it with more enthusiasm. Those are all things we needed to fix from last week.”
UMHB rebounded from last Thursday’s 81-72 loss at ETBU, winning its eighth conference game of the season, and improved to 13-2 overall. Ozarks dropped to 2-8 in ASC play.
The Crusaders’ intensity was present from the opening tip-off, as guard Carson Hammond connected on a three-pointer 46 seconds into the first half, and forward Luke Feely added consecutive layups for a 7-0 lead.
“We knew we had some mismatches with the lineup we had,” Carroll said postgame. “They had to put their bigs on Ty and Luke. We attacked them right away. Being aggressive and finding good shots in the paint, and trying to find assists and free throws was key for us tonight.”
UMHB guard Kyle Wright, who finished with a team-high 19 points, laid the ball in at the 10:09 mark of the opening half for the Cru’s first double-digit lead, 25-11. As the team’s primary ballhandler at several points in the contest, Wright helped facilitate the offense, dishing out two assists in addition to his scoring. His layup with 30 seconds remaining in the first half, gave UMHB a commanding 44-26 halftime advantage.
“Kyle’s been steadily getting better,” Carroll said of Wright. “He’s a high-energy guy, and a super defensive player. He’s got offensive skills where, if we get him into a spot where we can take care of his strengths and stay away from his weaknesses, he’s pretty good.”
Not only did Wright score UMHB’s last points of the first half, but he opened the second with another layup, extending the lead to 20 points. The Crusaders picked up where they had left off in the first half, and scored on their first five possessions en route to a 58-26 lead on Hammond’s lone three-pointer of the second half.
Ozarks had no choice, and called a timeout, internet on slowing the UMHB offense. It worked slightly; the Cru did not score for the next 1:43, but UMHB’s lead never dipped under 23 points, as four players recorded double figures in scoring. In addition to Wright’s 19, Feely, forward Ty Prince, and Hammond all tallied 11 points each, while forward Nathan Stolz pulled down eight rebounds.
The victory sets up a key conference matchup in Belton next Thursday, as Hardin-Simmons faces UMHB, the nation’s No. 22 team. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. CT and the revenge factor will be at play; HSU handed UMHB its first conference loss on Dec. 11 in Abilene.
“We have to protect our home court,” Carroll said. “That’s how you win titles. We’re in a good spot right now, on top of the league. It’ll be nice to have the students back [at the Mayborn Center] for the first time since the Toy Toss [on Nov. 9].”