Above photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
BELTON- Rivalry games always bring out the best in teams. Especially when they are played with four weeks left in the regular season and both teams nationally ranked.
In a fourth quarter that saw a combined 52 points scored between No. 20 UMHB and No. 22 Hardin-Simmons, the Crusaders came up with a string of key defensive stops, which led to a narrow 74-72 victory. It marked UMHB’s 14th consecutive win, moving the Cru to 12-0 in ASC play.
“From a conference race standpoint, it’s huge,” UMHB head coach Mark Morefield said of the victory. “It keeps us on top and gives us a little bit of separation.”
As the clock wound down in the final minutes of fourth quarter, a clear winner had not yet emerged. With 2:18 left, UMHB forward Ashley Faux connected on a three pointer at the top of the arc, giving the Cru a 70-66 lead. Arieona Rosborough added a free-throw 46 seconds later, but it did not remain a two-possession contest for long.
She’Ray Wilson’s jumper for HSU made it a three-point game with 59 seconds remaining, and a missed three from Faux set the Cowgirls up with a chance to tie the score. After 39 minutes of play, one possession presented a critical influence on the trajectory of the contest. HSU’s Hallie Edmondson misfired on a long shot from beyond the arc, though the ball was deflected off a UMHB defender.
Round 2. HSU would get another look at the three, and a chance to tie the score.
“We wanted to take away the three,” Morefield said of his message to his team prior to that critical possession. “We would give up the two. That way we would still be up by one, call a timeout, and still be in control of the game.”
But the Cru did not allow the two-pointer either, as Brittany Schanbel’s three-point attempt from the top of the arc fell short. The final 15 seconds did not unfold without a bit of excitement, as HSU would again make it a one-possession game with four seconds left on Parris Parmer’s three-pointer that followed two free throws from Rosborough. It added just one more hurdle that UMHB had to clear on its road to victory.
“We had to be locked in,” Rosborough, who had 14 points, said of the fourth quarter performance. “That was basically knowing the personnel. We executed that very well in the first half. We slacked up a little in the third, but made up for it in the fourth.”
The Crusaders led for the entirety of the first half, as Rosborough’s short-range jumper at the rim fell through on UMHB’s first possession of the opening quarter. Behind its consistent defense, the Cru held HSU at bay, taking a 16-11 lead at the end of the first quarter. A 6-0 run at the six-minute mark of the opening period gave UMHB an 8-2 lead, before the Cowgirls countered with five straight points of their own, cutting the deficit to one.
But in what became a constant theme throughout the contest, UMHB pulled away as the second quarter began.
Bethany McLeod gave the Cru a double-digit lead with 7:34 remaining, putting UMHB up 25-14 on a jumper in the paint. At the 2:51 mark, the lead was eight, following Alexia Martin’s free throw, but HSU suddenly found traction, closing out the quarter on a 7-0 run. That was in part due to the Cowgirls’ frequent trips to the foul line, as they shot 18 free throws in the quarter, four of which came in the final two minutes.
That momentum translated into the third quarter, as the lead changed hands five times and the score was tied at 47 as the fourth began. It proved to be the turning point for the Cru, as Faux connected on two threes within the first minute, bringing the vocal crowd to its feet, as UMHB took a 53-49 lead. Locked in defensively, the opponents traded blows, each understanding the significance of the Top 25 matchup.
Both teams shot especially well from three-point range over the final 10 minutes, with UMHB making three-of-four attempts, and HSU connecting on four of its seven. The offenses fully came together as the high-scoring quarter unfolded, and the Cru’s ability to convert from short-range was critical in the result. UMHB tallied 40 points in the paint to HSU’s 24.
“I think we have some of the most electric guards in the conference and I would have to say, in the country, just from what I’ve seen,” Morefield said. “You can’t just guard the post, because our guards can get to the paint.
“We have guards that can keep that pressure on them defensively, and it allows us to open things up.”
The victory is the fourth Top 25 win for Morefield’s team this season. But no matter the opponent, the Crusaders have approached each game with the same mindset. Cliche as it might be, “going 1-0” each night has been the rallying cry.
“The whole team is on one page,” Rosborough noted postgame.
“In the past I’ve felt like we’ve had good teams, but we haven’t fully embraced the target on our back. This year, young as they might be, we have girls that embrace that. In anything, we talk about ‘1-0.’ That mentality starts from us as coaches all the way down.”
The Cru continues conference play Saturday afternoon, hosting McMurry at 1 p.m. in Belton. The Warhawks are 0-11 in ASC play.