Above photo of Josiah Johnson by Russell Marwitz/True to The Cru
LONGVIEW- Josiah Johnson connected on just one three-pointer Monday night.
But it proved to be the biggest shot of the day, as the junior guard dodged two defenders and fired a long three at the buzzer, winning the critical ASC showdown for the UMHB men’s basketball team, ranked No. 16 in the nation.
The Crusaders moved to 17-2 on the year with the 79-77 road win at LeTourneau, solidifying their spot as the conference’s first-place team. It also marked UMHB’s fifth straight victory.
“We had a plan, we knew where the ball needed to go and we trusted Josiah,” UMHB head coach Clif Carroll said postgame.
Much of the contest was back and forth between the evenly-matched opponents, though LeTourneau took a 17-6 lead five minutes into the first half behind four three-pointers.
“I just told our guys to keep the faith, and trust each other,” Carroll said. “Trust the game plan and don’t try to deviate from what we were doing. Because it was working. Their kids just stepped up and made big shots.”
UMHB began slowly chipping away at the lead, and tied it on three occasions in the first 20 minutes. But UMHB was unable to take back its early 2-0 advantage, as LeTourneau held a 37-34 advantage at halftime.
“We just had to stay the course,” Carroll noted.
Johnson opened the second half with four straight free throws, giving the Cru a 38-37 lead at the 18:41 mark. For almost every shot UMHB made, LETU had an answer, and vice versa throughout the final period. With 1:49, Kyle Matthews’ layup fell through for LETU, as the Yellowjackets took a 73-68 lead. A free throw less than a minute later widened the margin to six points, but Kyle Wright cut the deficit in half for the Cru, with a three-pointer at the 1:27 mark.
The Crusaders got as close as a single point with 19 seconds to play, on a Johnson layup, but Wright was forced to intentionally foul and send LETU’s leading scorer Andrew Eberhardt to the free-throw line. In an uncharacteristic turn of events, Eberhardt missed both attempts, which led to Johnson’s three at the final buzzer.
In a contrast of emotions, as Johnson and the team celebrated the buzzer-beating win on one side of the court, just two figures stood near the UMHB bench: Carroll and Eberhardt. The head coach, knowing well what it is like to see a victory snatched away late, prides his team and program on sportsmanship and respect for the opponent.
“That kid’s a warrior,” Carroll said of Eberhardt. “I admire the way he plays. I knew that he was hurting there, and I wanted him to know that he’s a great player.”
Johnson finished with a team-high 31 points, and tallied 11 rebounds. Ty Prince contributed with 17 points and seven boards, and Luke Feely scored 16.
Let’s take a closer look at the win:
What Went Well
The consistency at the free-throw line was critical: For the second straight game, UMHB shot 80 percent or better from the free throw line, converting on 21-of-24 attempts against LETU. That included three free throws with under a minute remaining, two from Johnson and one from Wright, that put the Cru in a position to win the game on the last shot. Carroll’s squad opened the contest by making seven-of-eight from the line in the first half, including two from Johnson at the 5:12 mark that tied the score at 25. Johnson finished a perfect 14-of-14 from the charity stripe.
Carroll: “There’s a great stat out there that around 74 percent of teams that win games in the NCAA Tournament shoot more free throws than the other team. That’s something we talk about all the time, putting ourselves in spots where we can get to the free throw line. Free throws are a huge part of the game that people don’t see sometimes.”
Took advantage of the second chances: UMHB tallied 12 offensive rebounds, which produced 18 points, and those second-chance opportunities proved key Monday night. That included two possessions with under eight minutes remaining, as Johnson pulled down an offensive rebound and got it to Feely, who scored in the paint.
Carroll: [Those second-chance points] are huge. Especially when you’re not shooting the ball well. If you can turn a missed shot into points, that’s huge. That’s where we won the game right there. We weren’t doing a good job of creating shots offensively, but we were tough, We got to the rim.”
Applied practice into critical game situations: More than just Johnson’s last-second shot, the execution down the stretch from the entire team was exceptional over the final minutes of the contest. UMHB outscored LETU 12-8 in the final three minutes, and some timely rebounds limited possible second-chance opportunities for the Yellowjackets.
Carroll: “We practice in-game situations several times a week. That’s why. Those guys were confident, they had a plan, they knew what we wanted.”
UMHB faces Howard Payne for the second time this season on Thursday night in Brownwood. It marks the Cru’s third straight road game and will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT. The first meeting saw UMHB claim a 94-59 victory.