Above photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
BELTON- For the second consecutive evening, the UMHB men’s basketball team let a double-digit lead slip away in the second half. And for the second straight night, the top-seeded Crusaders regained the lead and pulled away, sealing a 90-73 victory over UT-Dallas in the semifinal round of the ASC Tournament.
It sets up the anticipated meeting between the conference’s top two teams, UMHB and LeTourneau, who will play Saturday at 6 p.m. in Belton for the ASC title, and an automatic qualifier into the NCAA Tournament.
“Tomorrow will be interesting,” UMHB head coach Clif Carroll said postgame. “It’ll be interesting to see how both teams can play, and how legs are [playing a third game in three days].”
The Cru opened Friday night’s duel with the Comets by electrifying the home crowd, draining its first four three-point shots and scoring 22 points within the game’s first five minutes. UMHB took a 22-11 lead at that point, and continually added to it, with the entire offense finding ways to score against the opposition. The Crusaders, ranked No. 7 in the nation, shot 71 percent from three-point range in the first 13 minutes.
It led to a 52-35 halftime advantage for the Cru, as Ty Prince led the team with 14 points.
Coming out of the half, however, UTD found a rhythm, and the Crusaders went cold offensively. The Comets recorded the first 13 points of the half, part of a larger 20-2 scoring run that gave UTD a 55-54 lead just over six minutes into the period. Kolton Pruitt was the leading force for the visitors from Richardson, tallying 11 of those points, including the free throws that first tied the score and then earned UTD the lead.
“You blow a lead like that, you can’t panic,” Carroll said. “There’s a reason you had the lead. There’s also a reason you lost it. We just had to get the ship righted and pushed it back up by 19 again. We’re a good team.”
The Cru did right the ship, breaking a 60-60 tie with an 11-2 run, eventually extending the advantage back to double digits. Over the last seven minutes, UTD managed just eight points, as UMHB claimed its 24th win of the year.
First-half three-point shooting: Prince opened the game with three three-pointers in the first three minutes, and the rest of the team followed suit. UMHB shot 61 percent (11-of-18) from beyond the arc in the first half en route to its 17-point halftime lead.
Heading into tomorrow’s ASC Championship game, here is a closer look at the victory:
Carroll: “Our word of the day was ‘Have faith in each other.’ Faith in the program, faith in each other. The way we moved the ball in the first half was special. We had their heads spinning.
Balanced offensive attack: Four Crusaders finished with double figures in scoring: Josiah Johnson, 22, Prince, 20, Carson Hammond, 14, Kyle Wright, 11. That was in large part a credit to UMHB’s ball movement, and ability to swing the ball around the perimeter, creating an open three-point shot against the UTD man-to-man defense. The Cru connected on 50 percent of its shooting attempts, as the entire offense was in sync.
Carroll: “We found a lot of open shots and we stepped up and made them. I don’t know if we’ve had a stretch where we’ve shot it that well. That’s what we’re capable of when we really share the ball and find the best shot for our team.”
Solid defense resulted in transition offense: The Crusaders locked down on the defensive end, forcing 16 UTD turnovers. The defense, which included implementing full-court pressure at various points throughout the contest, resulted in 30 points off turnovers for UMHB.
Carroll: “Their guards are young, and they’re not very deep in the guard spot. We knew if we kept constant pressure on them, we would get some of those [turnovers]. That’s how we got the 17-point lead in the first half, and then when we built the 17-point lead in the second half, it was a lot from turnovers.”
UMHB battles No. 2 seed LeTourneau at the Mayborn Center on Saturday. The Cru has defeated the Yellowjackets twice this season, including a two-point victory in Longview that saw Josiah Johnson connect on a three-pointer at the buzzer, claiming the win.