BELTON, Texas- For the second night in a row, the No. 2-ranked UMHB men’s basketball team found itself in a hole in the blink of the eye. On Tuesday, the Crusaders folded beneath the frustration and pressure, falling 80-71. But less than 24 hours later, exhibiting the maturity anticipated from a squad with a number of key returners, the response was 180 degrees different.
“Last night was a bunch of panic and frustration,” UMHB head coach Clif Carroll said postgame. “Tonight was so much more uplifting and the focus was on togetherness.”
With that mindset, UMHB pulled out its first victory of the 2022-23 campaign, defeating Redlands 92-82 in a fast-paced duel that left Carroll and his staff more confident in their squad, and its cohesiveness.
How it happened
The opening minutes
The early minutes of the matchup brought flashbacks to Tuesday’s season opener against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, as it seemed for the first three minutes, everything except the opening tip went Redlands’ way.
UMHB’s Ty Prince won the opening tip, but after Luke Feely missed a shot at the rim on the Cru’s possession, Redlands sprang into action. The up-tempo offensive attack produced a three-point play for the Bulldogs, with Cal Hansen fouled as his layup dropped through the net.
Feely was on-point when the ball got into his hands a second time, and he promptly tied the score with a three-pointer. Then Gibson Hearne fired an overhand pass above the heads of the Redlands defenders,set up in a full-court press defense, which led to a layup from Feely, and gave UMHB its first lead of the game, 5-3.
But Redlands stopped the momentum from shifting in UMHB’s direction any further. The Bulldogs put together an 11-0 run in an instant, flashing their exceptional long-range shooting ability with three three-pointers in the span of 77 seconds as the lead only widened in their favor.
“They were making tough shots,” Carroll noted postgame of Redlands’ early offensive success.
Rather than panic, as they did a night ago, the Crusaders found ways to counter. They navigated through the intense full-court pressure of Redlands, with Zachary Engels inbounding the ball to Josiah Johnson, who got it to Feely near center-court. Feely found Kyle Wright wide open for a three-pointer that broke a scoring drought of just under three minutes with 15:58 in the half.
With plays like that, UMHB found itself right back in it, tying the score at 24, then taking the lead on Feely’s layup with 8:34 left.
“They made a run and we’d make a run back,” Carroll said. “Being connected, being together and fighting for each other was a lot of fun tonight.”
Establishing a presence inside
Feely’s name was called early and often in the win, as he connected on nine of 12 shots, finishing with 20 points and nine rebounds. Fellow forward Nathan Stolz had 18 points in 21 minutes, and the duo helped the Cru finish with an impressive 42 points in the paint.
On top of that, UMHB won the rebounding battle, 39-32, a significant improvement from its play in that category against CMS, when the Crusaders were outrebounded 29-19.
“Tonight was really good because the way Redlands plays, they want you to take a lot of threes,” Carroll said. “So I thought it was really key that we got into the paint, made some interior passes and made layups. When we took the lead, it was done by getting layups.”
Sealing the win
Trailing 42-38 at halftime, UMHB regained the advantage on yet another layup from Feely at the 17:12 mark, and never looked back. Redlands did not lead again, despite cutting the margin to a single point on Khair Jackson’s three-pointer with 14:14 left to play.
“We have this philosophy of having faith [in our defense],” Carroll noted, adding that his players were in the right position, even on Redlands’ three-pointers… “Teams are going to have a hard time continuing to make contested threes. Last night, we just did not contest [enough of CMS’ three-point attempts]. Tonight, we stuck with it, and kept up our rebounding.”
Even with the lead intact, the Cru did not let up, and put together a convincing second half that left little doubt as to who was the best team on the floor. Redlands challenged UMHB with its intense defense, and early success from the three-point line, but once the visitors from Belton settled in, they maintained control.
“All around, it was a better effort,” Carroll said postgame. “We had better energy. You saw a veteran team tonight.”
UMHB was paced offensively by two 20 point performances, with Johnson leading UMHB in points for the second night with 25. Wright had nine points, but had an impact that went beyond his scoring, with eight assists, three steals and seven rebounds. In addition to Feely and Stolz in the points category, Prince was the fourth Crusaders in double figures, tallying 14 points.
UMHB has Thursday off before returning to action in Friday’s high-stakes contest against No. 12 Pomona-Pitzer.
“It’s going to be really tough,” Carroll said of the upcoming matchup. “Pomona is huge. Everybody that starts for them is over 6’6, and they like to sit in a zone defense. We’re going to have to find a way to move the zone and it’s going to be a completely different style [than what we faced tonight]. That’s why we do this. We came out here to challenge ourselves.”