Above photo of Luke Feely by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
BELTON- With 6:56 left to play in Saturday night’s second round NCAA Tournament duel with Trinity (TX), Ty Prince took three long strides then leapt off the floor, his right hand outstretched.
His hand connected with the ball, sent off the backboard by Trinity’s AJ Clark, and the response to Prince’s block from the largely pro-UMHB crowd was a deafening roar. It was plays such as that one that separated the Crusaders in a game that appeared more evenly-matched than the 98-82 final score. And with the emotional victory, the nation’s sixth-ranked team sealed a spot in the Round of 16 for the third time in program history.
“At no time did we feel like we were dominating the game,” UMHB head coach Clif Carroll said postgame. “Those guys kept coming at us. I’m really proud of my kids for quelling every run they made.”
Trinity did indeed mount several runs, including a 13-5 spurt with under 10 minutes remaining that cut what had been a 14-point advantage for the Crusaders into a 77-71 UMHB lead. That sparked a 12-5 run, highlighted by a Carson Hammond’s three-pointer that made it 89-76 with 2:40 left.
The Crusaders, who less than 24 hours prior had narrowly defeated Chapman in the first round, picked up right where they left off, connecting on 7-of-10 threes in the first half. After a few early turnovers against Trinity’s zone defense, UMHB found its footing, as Josiah Johnson, who finished with 33 points, drained a jumper for the Cru’s first points of the game.
A 7-0 run midway through the half gave the hosts a comfortable 21-15 lead; a lead that was eventually stretched to double digits within the final minutes of the opening period. There was certainly no shortage of momentum heading into the locker room, not after Johnson’s heroics just before the halftime buzzer.
With two Trinity defenders in close proximity, Johnson called for the ball, even as the clock wound down under five seconds. But with noticeable confidence, the Cru’s leading scorer stepped up and fired the 25-foot arcing shot. Nothing but net.
UMHB entered halftime with a 51-41 lead after Johnson’s three-pointer, and did not let up as the second half played out, a noticeable difference from Friday’s contest, after the Cru lost a 10-point advantage early in the second half, eventually trailing by 11, only to mount a comeback.
“It finally came to a head after we gave up the lead yesterday,” Carroll said. “We had a conversation this morning about what we had to do coming out of halftime to be better. I think it worked.”
Johnson and Prince, sitting on either side of Carroll in the postgame press room, nodded in agreement. The second-half surge kept the season alive.
With UMHB moving onto the Round of 16, here’s a closer look at the victory:
Consistency from the free throw line: UMHB connected on 15-of-16 free throw attempts in the victory, including six in the final 2:13, which sealed the win. Prince was responsible for four of those, and finished with a 7-of-8 mark from the line.
Prince: “In practice, [Coach] started making me run if I missed free throws. So I started making them. And now I make them in the games. It felt pretty good to knock those down.”
UMHB performed well against the zone defense: Facing a zone defense for the first time this season, Carroll was impressed by the way his team moved the ball against Trinity. The Crusaders tallied 28 assists, leading to 40 points in the paint and a shooting percentage of 56.5 percent.
Carroll: “We tried to attack the gaps and make sure we’re finding the ball inside and the best shots we can. We knew once we could get it [inside], we had the advantage. The crazy thing is, we don’t have a zone offense. We put one in this morning, but the way we run our offense, it works against anything. We move the ball, we share the ball, and we get to open spots.”
Three-point shooting: Led by Johnson, who had five made shots from beyond the arc, the Cru converted on 59 percent of their 22 three-point attempts. The accuracy from long-range was evident at various points throughout the contest, including between the 9:18 and 8:01 marks of the first half, in which UMHB connected on three-straight three-pointers, en route to a 34-29 lead.
UMHB will play Case Western Reserve, who upset Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 77-74, in a third round contest on Friday at 7 p.m. CT. The game will be hosted by Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio.
Johnson: “We’re not done yet. [Next week] is another game on the road to reach our goals.”