Above photo of Carson Hammond by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
BELTON- Carson Hammond knew the shot clock was winding down. Never mind that he was standing five feet beyond the three-point arc with less than 20 seconds left in the most critical game of the season for the UMHB men’s basketball team.
The Belton native stepped up and fired the shot. Swish. Then came a roar from the crowd of 1,434.
His fifth three-pointer of the day, what he called “the biggest shot of his career”, was the nail in the coffin in UMHB’s emotional, come-from-behind, 88-81 NCAA Tournament first-round victory on Friday night over Chapman.
“The shot clock was low, I knew it was going down, and that was the best shot I could get uncontested,” Hammond, who finished with a team-high 23 points, said postgame.
“I don’t mind that shot, because I’ve seen Carson make it a lot,” UMHB head coach Clif Carroll said of Hammond’s three-pointer with 16.6 seconds left, which extended the lead to 86-81. “Carson has been huge for us all year.”
For it having been nine years since the program’s last tournament appearance, the Crusaders made their presence known in the form of a 19-1 second-half scoring run that put the game away, erasing the 80-69 lead Chapman gained with 4:31 remaining. The crowd came to life as UMHB scored on possession after possession, the Cru refusing to see the season end on its home floor.
“We get in situations like that and we don’t panic,” Carroll said. “That’s one of our good traits. We’re not going to panic, we’re going to stay in. We were fortunate to turn them over and hit some shots.”
That they did. For a stretch, it did not look like Chapman would miss. The Panthers came out of halftime, after trailing 44-34, and scored the first seven points of the second half. By the 8:47 mark, Chapman led 68-67.
“In the second half, they spread us out [defensively],” Carroll said, “and my goodness, I didn’t think they were ever going to miss. We had a stretch where we were getting to the rim and making twos, and they were getting threes.”
But the tide slowly turned, as UMHB mounted the comeback, taking the game full circle, after a dominant first-half start.
In the opening half, it did not take long for the Cru’s confidence to build. UMHB forced three turnovers in the first two minutes of the contest, ending Chapman’s first two possessions with steals, mounting a 6-0 lead. Luke Feely scored eight of the Crusaders’ first 10 points in a brilliant show of strength in the paint. On UMHB’s second possession of the contest, Carson Hammond tallied the takeaway on the defensive end, getting it to Ty Prince who fed the ball to Feely just underneath the UMHB basket. The 6’5 forward’s first shot off the glass bounced out, but he pulled down the rebound, and put up another shot, despite the presence of three Chapman defenders, and recorded his first points of the game.
“Luke plays hard,” Carroll said. “He’s a spark plug for us sometimes. He was good at the beginning of the game. They were really focusing on loading up on Josiah [Johnson] and Ty [Prince]. He was able to shake loose a few times.”
Johnson and Feely each had 12 points in the first 20 minutes, helping to contribute to the double-digit halftime advantage. Though the most memorable moments of the contest for both sides were likely found in the second half, Chapman head coach Mike Bokosky was clear in the role the opening half played in the game’s overall result.
“What they did was take us out of everything in the first half,” Bokosky said. “We tried to run our offense, our plays, and they distorted everything.”
With UMHB advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, here’s a closer look at the win:
The home court advantage was real: When the news was released that UMHB would be hosting its first-round game, Carroll and his team were immediately thrilled for another chance to play in front of the large, and vocal, pro-UMHB crowd. There are times when “home court advantage” is more of a phrase said than an actual factor, but that was far from the case Friday night. The fans turned out in masses, and were key in helping the Crusaders mount the late 19-1 run. Chapman’s 10-of-15 mark was also an effect, Hammond thought, of the noise level inside the Mayborn Center.
Hammond: “Chapman is a good free throw shooting team. They missed some free throws because of our stands.”
Carroll: “The crowd was awesome tonight. It’s what we expected. They’ve been awesome all year. It’s tough to beat a team on their home court.”
21 forced turnovers: In a game that saw both teams shoot an even 50 percent from the field, taking away shots themselves were fundamental in the narrow victory. Chapman turned the ball over 21 times, despite connecting on 17 three-pointers, which proved a critical component in UMHB’s comeback.
Hammond’s strong outside shooting: More than just the final three-pointer that helped seal the victory, Hammond was one of UMHB’s top shooters all night. He converted on 8-of-11 field goal attempts, shooting 5-for-8 from beyond the arc, and dished out three assists. During the 19-1 run, it was another Hammond three that gave UMHB the lead, as he calmly connected on a long-range shot with 1:37 left, giving the Cru an 81-80 advantage.
What Needs Improvement
While the Crusaders scored on a number of second-chance opportunities, the defense also allowed Chapman a high number of their own. The Panthers pulled down eight offensive boards, leading to 14 points, a number of which came on open three-pointers, as the ball was rebounded and sent out to the perimeter.
UMHB battles Trinity (TX) on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. in Belton. The Tigers, representing the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference, defeated No. 25 Whitworth, 77-52 on Friday afternoon.
Carroll: “We celebrate for an hour and a half, go get something to eat, then it’s time to move onto Trinity. The way they played today, they can beat anybody in the country.”