By Riley Zayas
BELTON- There were two separate teams that took the floor Thursday night for the No. 16 UMHB men’s basketball team.
The first, hampered by “negativity” according to head coach Clif Carroll, entered halftime trailing 41-33 to Belhaven. The second came back to outscore the Blazers 53-32 in the second half en route to the team’s ninth straight win, an 86-73 victory .
“We had so many negative reactions to officiating calls, mistakes our teammates were making, and missed shots,” Carroll said. “So we went in there at halftime, and I said, ‘We have to change this. This can’t stand.’”
It did not. The Cru scored the first six points of the second period, and took a 49-46 lead with 14:16 remaining on Luke Feely’s free throw that followed a jumper in the paint. Belhaven tied the score three times over the final 20 minutes, but each time UMHB pulled away. The Crusaders finally put the game away with under nine minutes left, as a 12-2 run over a three-minute span earned UMHB an 11-point advantage. The Blazers got it back to single digits once more, but did not get any closer as UMHB moved to 21-2 on the year.
Changed approach in the second half displayed UMHB’s mental fortitude: The Cru was outrebounded 15-13 in the first half, connected on just 33 percent of its three-point shots and converted just over half of its five free throw attempts. An eight-point halftime deficit to a team that entered the matchup 5-9 in conference play was unlike the ASC’s regular season champions as well. But in the second half, everything changed. The team reached the free throw line 22 times, where 17 of its points were scored, defended well and tallied seven more rebounds than the Blazers. It revealed the 4:1 mentality that has become a centerpiece in programs run by former assistants of Hall of Fame coach Bobby Knight, whom Carroll served under as a student at Texas Tech.
Carroll: “Coach Knight always preached that. We use the term 4:1 a lot. It basically means the mental is to the physical as four is to one. When it comes down to this time in the year, everybody is tired. Everybody is beat up. It’s what you can do with the mental part of it. We talk about being able to fight through situations and I feel like we did a pretty good job of that tonight.”
Production in the paint comes as a result of good ball movement: UMHB tallied 42 points in the paint, scoring around the rim and from short-range at a steady rate, especially in the second half. It marked the second consecutive game the Crusaders scored that many from short-range, and was a product of the team’s ability to move the ball, finding opportunities to get around the defense and drive to the lane. Those kinds of plays produce high-percentage jump shots and layups, which powered UMHB to victory.
Carroll: “We really focus on layups, assists and free throws. That’s how we start our offense. That’s how we want to score. That turns into paint points. We’ve done a great job all year of winning in the paint. The games we lost the points in the paint were the two games we lost.”
What Needs Improvement
While UMHB was 52 percent from the field, converting on over half of its 57 shots, the Crusaders scored just six second-chance points. That came despite gathering 11 offensive rebounds, meaning the team failed to take advantage of additional scoring opportunities on several possessions following a missed shot. Those kinds of small facets in the game come into play in deciding close contests, such as the ones UMHB will face in next week’s ASC Tournament.
UMHB hosts ETBU at 3 p.m. on Saturday. The contest will be played at the Mayborn Center in Belton.