Above photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
AUSTIN- At the tail end of an eight-day road swing that featured five games and 1,428 miles on the bus, not playing quite up to standard would have been understandable when the UMHB men’s basketball team took the floor against Concordia Monday night.
Instead, the Crusaders reestablished their identity, won their 20th game of the year, captured the ASC regular season title, and earned the right to host next week’s ASC Tournament. All in 40 minutes of high-quality basketball, defeating the Tornadoes 82-73.
“You go into every season, and your No. 1 goal is to win the league,” UMHB head coach Clif Carroll said postgame. “To be able to do that, on the road, and face adversity like we’ve faced, I’m really proud of the guys. They showed a lot of maturity tonight.”
Ninth-ranked UMHB found its first points of the game with 18:22 in the first half, as Carson Hammond drained a three-pointer, tying the score at three. Concordia held the lead for the game’s first nine minutes, before Hammond connected on his second three-point shot, giving UMHB a 17-14 lead. A 6-3 scoring run over the half’s final few minutes gave the Crusaders a 38-32 halftime advantage.
18 seconds into the second half, Hammond hit another huge three-pointer, and a Luke Feely dunk on the following possession widened the lead to double-digits. Those two scoring plays were part of a larger 10-3 run that gave UMHB a 48-35 advantage. By the 10-minute mark, the Crusaders led by 15, 64-49, and never looked back from there. Concordia cut the deficit to 10 three times with under five minutes left, but did not get any closer, as UMHB’s defense held the Tornadoes to 16 points below their season average.
Hammond led the team with 18 points, and Kyle Wright and Payton Brooks each added 10 apiece.
With UMHB now at 20-2 on the season, here’s a closer look at the win:
Great awareness and team dynamic: Against a defense like Concordia’s, that pressures the opponent on every possession for the length of the court, making smart decisions with the ball was something Carroll emphasized in the game prep. It was something UMHB took to heart, as the Cru turned the ball over just six times in the first 20 minutes, nine times total, and took advantage of opportunities in transition. On one particular instance, following Josiah Johnson’s jumper in the first half, Hammond did not jog back down the floor, but instead raced up and intercepted Concordia’s inbounds pass, which put the Cru up 23-14. Carroll noted those kinds of plays as being a product of “team basketball”, something the Crusaders had not done consistently last week.
Carroll: “I wanted to see us getting back to playing better team basketball. We got out to West Texas and got away from our identity a little bit, playing for each other. And some of that is just being on the road for two weeks. We kind of lost our identity at Sul Ross, and Howard Payne, and really did a nice job of getting it back and playing like a team today.”
Forced turnovers kept Concordia off the board: UMHB shot for a lower percentage than the Tornadoes, was outrebounded by six, and yet still held the ASC’s top offense to well under its average. The key? Turnovers. The Cru forced the fast-paced offense of Concordia into 23 turnovers, leading to 28 of its points.
Carroll: “We did a nice job of really putting [Concordia] in a box, and restricting where they could go. They’re really hard to guard when the ball is moving freely, so we did a good job of getting deflections and creating turnovers.”
Concordia’s opportunities from the charity stripe were kept at a minimum: Concordia made it to the free throw line on only a handful of occasions, shooting a grand total of five free throws, making three. In a game as physical as this, UMHB’s eight fouls were especially notable, especially when compared to last month’s meeting between the opponents in Belton, in which the Tornadoes shot 27 free throws.
Carroll: “The officials letting us play a little bit was part of [the low number of fouls]. And the second part of that was that we did a really good job, especially in the second half, of staying in front of them and forcing them to take jump shots. They’re a good shooting team, but when they beat you is when they make it to the line and get layups and offensive rebounds.”
What Needs Improvement
Losing the rebounding battle is not something UMHB has done many times this season, but the Tornadoes were aggressive on the glass and pulled down 45 rebounds to the Cru’s 37. 11 of Concordia’s came offensively, which produced 17 points. That was in part due to UMHB not getting in front of the Concordia post players after the Tornadoes’ shot the ball, and in position for a defensive rebound.
Carroll: “If we could have cleaned up the rebounding a little bit, especially in the first half, it would have been a special game defensively.”
The Cru battles Belhaven Thursday night in a 7:30 p.m. contest in Belton. It will be the first time UMHB has played the Blazers this season.