Above photo by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru
CLEVELAND- A week ago, Carson Hammond sat in a press conference and was asked if the game-sealing three-pointer he had connected on moments prior was the biggest shot he had ever hit.
“I think that’s the biggest shot I’ve made so far,” the senior guard responded.
But guard Kyle Wright was quick to add: “He’s got some bigger ones coming.”
It is almost as if Wright saw one week into the future. Because exactly seven days after that three-pointer fell through the net in Belton, Hammond again proved his poise.
With just 2.4 seconds left in Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup between UMHB and Case Western Reserve, all the drama that could have possibly been bundled inside the gym was present. UMHB trailed 75-73, needed to go 94 feet to win, with its season on the line.
Hammond answered the call. As Gibson Hearne reared back and fired the ball 80 feet upcourt on the inbounds pass, Hammond and CWRU’s Robert Faller both raced for the loose ball near the baseline just under the UMHB basket. With just 0.7 seconds left, a foul was called, spurring a noise level inside the gym that had not been reached all game. Everyone knew the implications of the call. Hammond would go to the line, needing to make both to send it into overtime.
He did just that.
The senior, with his parents amongst many UMHB supporters sitting in the cramped stands, rose to the occasion just as he had a week prior, in the first-round win over Chapman. He calmly swished the first, then CWRU called a timeout, which gave Hammond an extra 30 seconds to think about the biggest free throw of his life.
“All through the timeout, Coach Carroll kept saying, ‘Carson’s going to make this, we’re going to overtime. Let’s make sure we don’t foul.’ Everybody had faith in me so I just shot it with confidence.”
Seconds later, he sank the second, tying the score at 75, sending the contest into overtime.
The Cru continued the momentum through the five-minute overtime, as Josiah Johnson drained a three-pointer with 10.5 seconds left, that put UMHB up 87-84. CWRU did not counter, sending UMHB to Saturday’s Elite Eight duel with Elmhurst.
“It was crazy,” Carroll said of the play that sent the contest into regulation. “On Monday or Tuesday, we were going through practice and the Good Lord just reached out and touched me on the shoulder and said, ‘you need to work on that home run play.’ It came out of nowhere. So at the end of practice, I said, ‘Let’s work on that home run play.’ And sure enough, here we are. We needed it.”
Carroll added that the Crusaders “didn’t execute” the play perfectly, with Hammond having to track down the loose ball, before being fouled. But the preparation that went into it put Hammond in position to make the play that sent him to the line.
“The ball got overthrown and I was just running,” Hammond recalled. “I don’t even know what I was running for. I was just running and then the guy basically threw me a bounce pass and I was lucky enough to make both free throws.”
But Hammond was running for a purpose. The faith of the team that allowed UMHB to fight back from an 11-point deficit seven days ago with under four minutes left, was the same faith that drove the Cru to success Friday night.
“Those are winning plays,” Carroll said. “I don’t know if last year we were ready to make those plays. The growth of this team is incredible. The faith they have is unbelievable.
“You’re down 11 to Chapman with four minutes to go, and you win. Carson said he didn’t know why he was running, it’s because he had faith. He knew that we were going to do everything we could to give ourselves a chance to win that game.”
The hustle plays were frequent throughout the night. Just under three minutes into the game, with CWRU leading 8-2, Josiah Johnson saw the ball heading out of bounds. But the junior guard did not just watch it bounce. Instead, he leapt over the media table, knocking out a monitor in the process, and flipped the ball high overhead to Luke Feely, who found Ty Prince for an open three-pointer.
Those plays continued to build on each other throughout the night. The Spartans of CWRU took a seven-point lead early in the first half before the Crusaders countered with a 10-3 run of their own, tying the contest at 22 with 10 minutes left. With 52 seconds remaining in the half, the game was still following a back-and-forth pattern, as Hammond connected on a three to make it 39-37, CWRU in front.
The Spartans led 41-37 at halftime, and extended that to a 12-point advantage within the first five minutes, behind a series of three-pointes. But a Nathan Stolz three-pointer cut it back to single digits for the Crusaders, eventually setting up the dramatic finish.
With UMHB set to play for a Final Four spot tomorrow, here’s a closer look at the victory:
26 forced turnovers: UMHB was outrebounded by 12, and CWRU tallied 16 more assists than the Cru, but the visitors from Belton were exceptional when it came to forcing turnovers. That led to 37 points, compared to just 15 for the Spartans. UMHB forced four turnovers alone in the overtime period, scoring points on all four.
Carroll: “They were playing one-on-one basketball and whenever we’d get ready to drive past them, they’d reach out and grab it. Sometimes it’s a foul and sometimes it’s not. That’s just the way basketball is played here. It’s hard to adjust because we’re used to Texas. We call more fouls in our league per game than anywhere else in the country. We had to make that adjustment.”
Converting at the free-throw line: Carroll has said at many points this season that the team that converts on more free throws often wins in the NCAA Tournament, and that was the case Friday night. UMHB was 23-of-29 from the line (79.3%), led by Prince, who was a perfect six-of-six.
What Needs Improvement
A very solid defensive team, CWRU took away plenty of offensive rebounding opportunities, and outrebounded the Cru 45-33. That was something UMHB adjusted to in-game, and was much more successful during the second half.
Carroll: “Towards the end of the game we evened up the rebounding. We had to raise Luke’s level of concern about rebounding and he went in there in the second half and got some big offensive rebounds.”
UMHB plays Elmhurst at 7 p.m. CT in Cleveland on Saturday night. The Bluejays are 25-6 on the year and defeated Calvin 79-77 on Friday.