CLAREMONT, California-UMHB head coach Clif Carroll knew that opening the 2022-23 season on the road against three quality SCIAC opponents would not be the easiest of starts for his squad, ranked No. 2 in the nation. But he wanted them challenged, given a preview in some ways of what the postseason entails, both in the nature of playing three games in four days, and facing tournament-caliber opponents in each of those.
That is exactly what Claremont-Mudd-Scripps served up on Tuesday night in the Cru’s season opener, as the Stags emerged with an 81-70 victory on their home court.
“We weren’t very connected as a team,” Carroll said. “We were humbled tonight. Claremont is a good team. My hat’s off to them. They played really well.”
How it happened
A quick start from CMS established the Stags’ early lead
CMS controlled the game from start to finish it seemed, beginning with a rare four-point play 54 seconds into the first half, when Kiran Kruse was fouled on a made three-point shot, and connected on the ensuing free throw. That early 4-2 lead soon swelled into a 10-6 advantage for the Stags by the media timeout 4:30 in, and UMHB’s shooting struggles became more and more visible as the opening half progressed. The Cru made just one of five shots in the midst of CMS’ 9-2 run that gave the hosts a 19-10 advantage with 12:15 left, and slowly everything began clicking for CMS.
The Stags closed the first half on a 21-10 spurt, leading 40-20 at halftime, as they fired on all cylinders, shooting 53.6 percent from the field, and 35.7 percent from three-point range.
CMS moved the ball with ease, limited UMHB’s scoring production
Exceptional ball movement and stringent defense were CMS’ two keys in the establishment of the 20-point lead by halftime, and the eventual 13-point win. With height at all five positions, the Stags were able to work the ball near the rim, pulling in the UMHB defense, before passing it out to the perimeter, setting up a number of open looks from beyond the three-point arc.
CMS ended up with an exceptional 48 percent mark on its 25 three-point attempts, which kept the game out of reach for the Crusaders, even when UMHB put forth a considerable charge in the early minutes of the second half.
The Stags were just as good at defending the three-point arc as they were shooting from it, especially in the first 20 minutes. The Cru converted on just one three-point attempt, a Payton Brooks swish with 11:34 remaining in the first half, and scored just 11 of its points on field goals, the other nine coming at the free-throw line. CMS’ defensive intensity radiated throughout the contest, and made UMHB work for every shot. Additionally, the Stags took away any opportunity for second-chance points, outrebounding UMHB 40-27. The Cru had just nine second-chance points.
UMHB made halftime adjustments, and outscored CMS in the second half
For as much as UMHB struggled to gain its footing in the first half, the visitors from Belton did not surrender the game that early. Bringing back memories of stellar second halves in last year’s ASC and NCAA Tournaments, the Cru connected on three of their first four shots of the second half, including a much-needed three-pointer from Preseason All-American Josiah Johnson just over two minutes in.
That cut the deficit to 16, and while UMHB got the CMS lead down to 13, 48-35, when the game was still in question with 14 minutes left, the hill proved too steep to climb. Josh Angle was on the floor for all but one minute for the Stags, on his way to 37 points, and though UMHB found its offensive rhythm as the second half progressed, outscoring CMS 50-41, it seemed the hosts had an answer for every shot the Crusaders connected on.
“You just have to remind them, it’s ok to pass the ball to a teammate,” Carroll said. “We played a little harder [in the second half] and made some shots. We just have to grow up as a team. We’re past the point where we should be so shot-dependent. We have to be able to win games when we’re not making shots.”
Johnson had a team-best 17 points on a 3-of-10 shooting day for the Cru, and Ty Prince added 14. Luke Feely, whose performance was best seen by his defending of CMS center Rhett Carter, grabbed seven rebounds and had nine points. Carter, four inches taller than Feely at 6’9, did not score while Feely was in the game, and tallied just six points.
UMHB aims to bounce back in its second game of this road trip on Wednesday night, battling Redlands at 9 p.m. CT.
“Tomorrow is going to be a different game,” Carroll said. “Redlands wants to play a high-paced style with lots of pressure.”