Photo by William Roberts/@c1osen/True To The Cru
BELTON- The home opener for the No. 2-ranked UMHB men’s basketball team on Wednesday night was not your typical regular season game.
Rather, it was a unique in a number of ways, starting with the fact that it marked the program’s second annual “Toy Toss” game, in which fans throw stuffed animals onto the court after UMHB scores its first points, and the toys are collected and donated to the McLane Children’s Hospital in Temple. Then there was the opponent, the Fort Hood Phantom Warriors, a team of active-duty soldiers from nearby Fort Hood in Killeen, facing UMHB for the first time. And once the 29th player checked into the game for the Cru, late in the fourth quarter, it added just another unusual, yet intriguing aspect to the exhibition.
“It was great,” UMHB head coach Clif Carroll said postgame. “This game is so much fun. Knowing that we got toys going to help sick kids feel better. There’s no better cause than that.”
It took UMHB a handful of possessions before the Crusaders finally got on the board in the opening half, with guard Kyle Wright connecting on a three-pointer from the left wing. And as soon as the ball swished through the net, hundreds of toys flew onto the court.
Wright’s three tied the score for a brief moment, before Fort Hood’s experience and talent took over, allowing the Phantom Warriors to reclaim the lead. 10 minutes in, they led 19-9.
The contest was as much of a memorable experience for the Crusaders as it was for Fort Hood, who was playing in its fifth game against a college this fall. A team composed of many former college players, some of whom represented Fort Hood at the All-Armed Forces Competition in San Diego earlier this year, playing UMHB was a quality challenge. And adding to it, they were well-received by the home crowd, with each player on the roster announced before tip-off, along with his number of deployments and role within the U.S. Army.
“We can learn lessons from these guys,” Carroll said postgame. “ I told our guys, ‘We’re lucky, because we don’t have to worry about going to Poland and getting bombs thrown at us and things like that. We can focus on basketball.’ These guys have to keep an eye on stuff like that.
“I have so much respect for [Fort Hood]. I’m so proud that we were able to play them. Hopefully this is something we can do every year.”
Fort Hood head coach Uriah Hunter had a similar enthusiasm when talking about the meaning of the matchup for his team, who took a 39-27 halftime lead and emerged with a 78-66 victory.
“That was a good experience for them,” Hunter said postgame. “Mary Hardin-Baylor has been good to us, and as a whole has been good to the installation. We appreciate the opportunity to come out and get these men some exposure.”
Fort Hood’s play was certainly impressive, as they kept the pressure on, especially offensively, whipping the ball around the three-point arc, creating good shooting opportunities, especially in the early minutes of the second half. The Phantom Warriors held onto their lead from start to finish, exhibiting a sense of joy, intensity, and drive all at the same time. Though a part of that result can be traced back to Carroll emptying his bench, using 29 different players, some of whom were true freshmen, Fort Hood played well in the early goings too, against UMHB’s main rotation.
“We had two gold medalists out there,” Hunter said, referencing Ronald Trapps, who had 28 points, and Randall Haley, who scored 17. “They made the game easy for everybody on the court. We have some younger guys, and I think [Trapps and Haley] helped settle them down. For the most part, I thought the guys just played well.”
Facing a team of Fort Hood’s style should be a good primer for the Cru, considering the next opponent on the schedule, Concordia (TX), has a similar hard-nosed, fast-paced way of playing.
“These are grown men,” Carroll noted. “There are several guys who played D-I basketball out there. Playing against that just makes us better. There’s that old adage, ‘If you’re the best player in the gym, you’re playing in the wrong gym.’ You’re never going to get better if you don’t challenge yourself.”
The game may have resulted in a loss for UMHB, but in an exhibition, that was really beside the point. Instead, it was about moments like the three-pointer for freshman Trey Seigle, an ROTC major who shared a connection with the opposition, considering that one day in the near future, he will be joining forces with them as a member of the U.S. military.
“Trey had fun out there, meeting [the players from Fort Hood],” Carroll said. “They were messing with him pregame, and just getting that experience was cool for him. To me, the exhibition game is about stuff like that.”
And it was about players like seniors Bryson Laird and Jacob Paske, neither of whom saw action in UMHB’s three contests last week in California that began the season, but stepped onto the court with energy, and gave tremendous effort. Laird had a couple of key passes on the offensive end, and Paske dove for more than one loose ball as the second half played out.
“It’s a great night of growth and celebration,” Carroll said. “It’s good for our team. I got to play 29 guys tonight. Those are the kinds of things you can do during an exhibition game, where the stats and wins and losses don’t count.”
From here on out, however, the wins and losses will count, especially with American Southwest Conference play tipping off in that Dec. 3 matchup at Concordia. Carroll knows that his team has room to grow, as the last four games have shown. But the Crusaders also have ample time for that growth, with 17 days until they play next. And it will not happen all at once.
“We can get better,” Carroll added. “That’s what I just told the guys. There’s some things we can sure up, and some things we can add to our arsenal offensively and defensively. We’re not the team now that we’re going to be in February and March.”
Point Leaders (UMHB): Braedyn Dawes (9 pts), DJ Kane (7 pts), Payton Brooks (6 pts)
-18 different players scored for UMHB
-First collegiate points (unofficial): Hudson Johnson (3), Trey Seigle (3), Kaden Smart (2),
Point Leaders (FT Hood): Ronald Trapps (28 pts), Randall Haley (17 pts), Cameron Hoops (9 pts)