Photo by Russell Marwitz/True to The Cru/russellmarwitz.com
CLAREMONT, California- The plane trip back to Belton will be a good one.
For a team that opened its time on the west coast with a frustrating 81-70 loss to a quality, yet unranked Claremont-Mudd-Scripps squad, the Crusaders will be leaving the golden state with a Top 25 victory in tow, and a 2-1 record. Not bad for playing three games in four days against what head coach Clif Carroll called “probably the three best teams in California.”
“We saw Jekyll and Hyde a little bit,” Carroll said with a laugh. “We saw how bad we could be against Claremont, and we saw how good we could be against Pomona.”
“Good” does not even seem to encompass the level at which UMHB, ranked No. 2 in the nation, played on Friday night, as the Crusaders played exceptional basketball on both ends of the floor, taking down No. 12 Pomona-Pitzer on the road, 84-71, in their lone Top 25 duel of the week. UMHB never trailed at any point.
“We know now that we can go anywhere in the country, we can go to any gym and get a win, if we play like it,” Carroll said postgame. “Tonight was a great confidence booster, even for me as a coach.”
A quick start gave UMHB momentum early on
That was evident from the early moments of the contest, starting with Ty Prince’s three-pointer on UMHB’s first possession, just 21 seconds in. An offensive foul against Pomona-Pitzer gave way to another swish from Prince, the 6’7 forward/wing whose versatility was displayed in his 20-point, seven-rebound, two-assist performance. His second made shot came on the Cru’s second possession, as he took a pass from Luke Feely, pivoted and let the ball fly from the free throw line. It hit nothing but the net, as the scoring seemed to flow easily for the visitors from Belton.
Seconds after checking into the game, Nathan Stolz drained a three-pointer from the corner, with Prince, not surprisingly, credited with the assist. That 8-3 lead at the 16:18 mark of the first half soon grew to 20-12 six minutes later, despite the fact that the Sagehens responded to UMHB’s quick start with a 4-0 run of their own, cutting the deficit to just one.
Such was the story of the night. Pomona-Pitzer, with a starting lineup whose average height was nearly 6’5, made it either a one or two-possession game as they played from behind on multiple occasions in both halves. But each time, the Cru had an answer. Whether it was the 9-2 run in the span of two minutes, 48 seconds, that gave UMHB a 33-24 lead with under five minutes to go in the opening half, or the 8-2 second-half spurt capped by Josiah Johnson’s three-pointer that extended the advantage back to double digits.
UMHB was locked in defensively
The critical element in all of the success started on the defensive end it seemed. Considering the Sagehens height, something UMHB physically could not match, it had been thought by some entering the matchup that Pomona-Pitzer would take advantage of the height difference and win through offensive rebounds and points in the paint. The Cru’s defensive intensity and positioning made that all the more difficult, however, something seen in UMHB forcing three shot clock violations in the first half alone.
“We made them uncomfortable tonight,” Carroll noted. “They’re a team that doesn’t turn it over hardly at all, and we were able to force some today that were uncharacteristic.
“They’re used to being able to use their size and pick [opponents] apart with their motion offense to find good shots. There were a couple times tonight where they just couldn’t do it. We were matching them size-for-size on the wing.”
The competitiveness on the defensive end played into UMHB’s offensive production, as the Cru pulled down defensive rebounds, then passed the ball upcourt quickly, not allowing the Pomona-Pitzer zone defense to set up, before finding someone cutting to the rim for a layup. Such as the memorable play at the 2:12 mark of the first half, when Johnson gathered a missed three-pointer, fired an overhand pass to Kyle Wright on the other end of the court, who made the pass to Luke Feely for the layup and a 37-27 lead.
A near-perfect day at the free-throw line
20 of UMHB’s points came at the free throw line, and the importance of the consistency the Crusaders exhibited cannot be overstated. Free-throw shooting was at times a struggle a season ago, and even in Wednesday’s win, when they were 15-of-22. On Friday night, they ended up with one less shot, and five more makes. In the first half, UMHB was a perfect 12-of-12, and the lone miss in the second half came with 2:41 left, when the contest had already been decided.
“During the pace of play, we dominated the free throw line,” Carroll said, referencing UMHB’s . “Our goal in games is to make more than they shoot. We accomplished that. That’s not easy to do against a team that is as good and disciplined as Pomona.”
UMHB’s schedule is unique in that just as the Cru had a full three weeks from the beginning of practice on Oct. 16 until last weekend, prior to leaving for California, they will have three more weeks of a similar schedule. UMHB’s next regular season game is not until Dec. 3 in an ASC contest at Concordia. This allows for increased teaching by the coaching staff,
“There’s a lot of things that we’re not good enough at,” Carroll said, referencing his team’s 95.2 percent performance at the line. “We had to pick and choose what we felt like we were good at and what we needed to improve on [because there was so little time before our first game]. We need to tweak some things, add some things, and sure up some things. This is going to be a big three weeks for us.”
UMHB will not go completely without being in a game setting until December, however. The second “Toy Toss” game in program history is set for Nov. 16, in an exhibition against the Fort Hood Phantom Warriors, a team made up of soldiers from Fort Hood in Killeen. Tip-off from the Mayborn Campus Center in Belton is set for 6:30 p.m. and admission is free.
Johnson led the way in the points column for the third straight game, with 28, on 8-of-19 shooting. He had just eight points at the half, six of which came at the free-throw line, but was incredibly accurate as the game went on, finishing the last 20 minutes by converting on seven of 11 attempts. Feely joined Johnson and Prince in double figures in scoring, with 16 points. Wright had a team-best four steals.