Above photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
ALPINE- Over the last few weeks, Sul Ross State has become known for second-half comebacks. And on Saturday afternoon, true to form, the Lobos mounted a second-half run. But UMHB was ready for it, and the 16th-ranked Crusaders came away from their final regular season road contest with a 78-74 victory.
With 22 seconds remaining, SRSU’s Logan Dixon connected on a free throw, cutting the deficit to just four points. But UMHB’s Luke Feely found a lane and laid the ball in eight seconds later, making it a six-point advantage as time ran out on the Lobos’ comeback.
In a game of polar opposite halves, the Cru outscored SRSU 46-36 in the first period. Kyle Wright drained a three-pointer for the Cru 19 seconds into the contest, and after the Lobos took a 23-16 advantage 10 minutes in, UMHB countered with a 13-0 scoring run.
And in a phenomenal defensive effort, the Cru held SRSU to just one three-pointer in 11 attempts, playing stringent defense on the perimeter.
It seemed things could not have gone better for UMHB in the opening 20 minutes, with the exception of making a few more shots. As it was, they did not turn the ball over once, shot a respectable 39 percent from the field, and were strong in the rebounding game. The halftime score reflected that.
But in the second half, things slightly unraveled as the lead grew, then just as quickly, shrunk. The Lobos finished the game on a 17-10 run, as the team’s three seniors worked fervently in chipping away at the UMHB lead, though the Cru came away with win as the result of a few late field goals.
On a side note, UMHB head coach Clif Carroll noted that being a part of SRSU’s senior day presentation was especially enjoyable, considering that all three seniors were players he recruited to Alpine, prior to his taking the head job in Belton.
“It’s so unique,” Carroll said of getting to be part of the event, despite coaching at another program.”That’s not something that happens often. To see Logan, Jake and Julian, and the players they’ve become and the men they’ve become [was cool]. I’m so proud of what they’ve done.”
With UMHB moving to 19-2 on the year, here is a closer look at Saturday’s win:
The starting five produced in a big way: Four of UMHB’s five starters scored in double figures, as the core of the team paved the way in the victory. Josiah Johnson tallied his sixth straight 20-plus point performance, leading the team with 25. Having that consistency from the team’s top players guided the offense and kept the SRSU on its toes, with the level of balance in the scoring.
Foul total was kept low in the second half: SRSU shot 16 free throws in the first half, which resulted in 11 of its points, but UMHB sent the Lobos to the line on only four occasions in the second half. That kept the Crusaders’ key players out of foul trouble, and forced the Lobos to score on UMHB’s defense, rather than take open shots from the line.
Efficiency on offense: In the first half especially, UMHB’s offense had little trouble finding good opportunities against the Lobos, getting the ball into the paint and then back out for quality outside shots. UMHB tallied 15 assists in the game, and as previously mentioned, did not turn the ball over in the first half, both of which contributed to the 10-point halftime advantage.
What Needs Improvement
If there’s one area that Carroll reitterenated improvement being necessary, it was in the form of the finish. In multiple games this season, the head coach has noted disappointment with his squad’s ability in closing out games, particularly ones in which they enter the second half with a double-digit lead. Entering into the ASC Tournament in two weeks, finishing games will prove critical with games on consecutive days and each one a must-win.
“We let it kind of get away from us. That’s not what championship-caliber teams do. Championship-caliber teams push the lead out to 15, out to 20, and take care of business. You don’t piddle around and let teams come back on you, or fans affect you. I also don’t think that physically we’re that tired, even after four games in six days, but mentally, I think everyone’s worn down a little bit…myself included. So we let some things slip.”
UMHB has one day without a game before returning to the road, facing Concordia (TX) in Austin. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. CT on the Tornadoes’ campus.