Above photo courtesy of the ETBU Athletics Department
MARSHALL- The last time UMHB and Belhaven battled, exactly a week ago, the Crusaders lost the rebounding battle, and if not for a late scoring run, might have lost the game.
But on Thursday afternoon, the nation’s No. 16 team flipped the script, outrebounding the Blazers 45-34, as the Crusaders won their quarterfinal contest at the ASC Tournament, 61-50.
Though the scoring came slowly in the early minutes of the first quarter, the Cru soon found momentum offensively, converting on 46 percent of their 15 second-quarter shots. It gave UMHB a 30-26 halftime lead, as Bethany McLeod drained a free throw with seven seconds left. The first half lead widened to as many as 10 points with three minutes left when UMHB scored on consecutive possessions, with an Alexia Martin jumper following Kasey Jo Hinton’s lone three-pointer of the day.
Belhaven’s Jakiya Jackson laid the ball in on a fast-break 36 seconds into the second half, cutting the UMHB lead to two, but the Crusaders countered with a 7-0 run. That proved to the story of the third quarter, as Belhaven cut into the UMHB lead at several points only for the Crusaders to respond with a scoring spurt. But for the final five minutes of the fourth, UMHB’s advantage never dropped below double digits, as the Cru sealed the quarterfinal win.
Before looking ahead to Friday’s semifinal, here’s a closer look at the victory:
Rebounding advantage was key: UMHB won the battle on the boards, 45-34, and also tallied 11 offensive rebounds to Belhaven’s six. That was a point of emphasis for Morefield and his staff in the week leading up to the tournament, considering the Cru was outrebounded in each of its previous two games.
Morefield: “The rebounding was much better. We really limited them a lot to one [shot] and done, and not letting them get second-chance opportunities.”
UMHB forward Ashley Faux: “Something we’ve really emphasized in practice is first boxing out, then turning around and getting the rebound. I think we really executed our game plan very well there.”
Bench produced, which allowed starters extra rest: One of the top priorities entering a tournament such as this one is making sure you have enough depth in the anticipated championship game on the final day, Morefield noted. The bench delivered in a big way for the Cru, as Alexia Martin and Olivia Champion contributed with seven points each, and four others also added to the scoring.
Morefield: “I think [the bench] is going to help if you end up playing three games in three days. On that third day, we’re just hoping we’re a little bit fresher because of our depth and being able to get some of those starters a little bit more rest today.
McLeod: “Belhaven only plays seven, so we used our depth to run them up and down the floor to make them tired, so we could keep fresh legs.”
Offensive balance: The offense distributed the ball well, as 11 players scored, which kept Belhaven’s defense on its toes, and created a number of open shots, particularly in the second half. UMHB shot over 40 percent from the field as a team in each of the final three quarters, in large part because the scoring was not centered on one or two players. Five Crusaders tallied seven points or more, led by Faux, who had nine.
Morefield: “I thought we had good ball movement. I thought we shared shots well. We got a lot of good looks at the rim. I’m really happy with what we did from an offensive standpoint.”
What Needs Improvement
UMHB turned the ball over 20 times, which led to 14 of Belhaven’s points. And that was without much pressure from the Blazer defense. Morefield said postgame that the high turnover number is more due to the timing within the Cru’s offense than anything the opponent is presenting.
Morefield: “I still don’t like the turnovers. A lot of it is self-induced. It’s just the timing of the pass, or the reads. We have to do a better job of taking care of the ball.”
UMHB battles No. 4 seed UT-Dallas at 5 p.m. on Friday. It marks the Cru’s sixth consecutive appearance in an ASC tournament semifinal.
Morefield: “We want to be the best team on the floor at 5 o’clock tomorrow. That’s where the focus is.”