Photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
BELTON- What happens when two great coaching minds think alike? In the case of Saturday’s matchup between the UMHB men’s basketball team and Sul Ross State, a lot of three-point shooting.
Sul Ross State head coach Xavier Webb played under UMHB head coach Clif Carroll from 2015-17 at SRSU, learning Carroll’s defensive strategy, marked by limiting points made on short-range shots. And Webb has applied a version of the defense to his own team, while Carroll brought it with him to Belton.
The result was both teams taking plenty of attempts from beyond the arc, and connecting on quite a few of them, as the Crusaders shot 51.9 percent from three-point range and pulled out their third straight win in a 93-80 victory on Saturday afternoon. SRSU shot 50 percent from long-range, and considering the Cru took 27 three-point attempts, and the Lobos tallied 28, those were notable numbers.
“[Xavier] played for me and was my assistant coach,” Carroll noted postgame. “The strength of our defenses is taking away points in the paint, so you knew, both teams running the same style of defense, we were going to be putting up a bunch of threes.”
UMHB moves to 5-3 overall, 3-2 in American Southwest Conference play, while SRSU drops to 3-7 overall, and 1-4 in conference action.
How it happened
The abundance of three-point shots was evident from the start, with UMHB’s Nathan Stolz connecting on a shot from beyond the arc 59 seconds in, before SRSU’s Julian Paredes, who finished with 15 points, drained one of his own 16 seconds later. In fact, three of the Crusaders’ first five shots were from long range, and impressively, they converted on all three. The third, a high-arcing ball from Josiah Johnson well beyond the three-point line, gave UMHB a 13-5 lead at the 16:29 mark.
“We tried to really focus in on getting paint points,” Carroll said. “I think we did a great job of establishing [a scoring presence] inside before we went to shooting a bunch of threes.”
SRSU responded with a run of its own, scoring eight of the next 10 points, cutting the deficit to just two, 15-13. In turn, Johnson countered with three-pointers on each of the next two possessions, tying UMHB’s largest lead of the day at eight points. Payton Brooks pulled up for a jump-shot from near the baseline on the ensuing possession, and as it fell through the net, the Cru gained its first double-digit advantage of the afternoon, leading 23-13.
Once again SRSU answered the call, displaying plenty of resilience as a pair of Hayden Peterson three-pointers and a layup cut the margin to just four by the nine-minute mark of the opening half. Twice more the visitors from Alpine got within four, only to have UMHB pull away again.
The key run from the Crusaders seemed to come in the opening minutes of the second half, after UMHB took a 44-31 halftime lead. UMHB opened the final 20 minutes with an 11-3 spurt, as Kyle Wright’s layup with 17:10 left pushed the lead past 20 points, at 55-34.
“We always tell ourselves that teams who want to compete with us really have to shoot it well,” Carroll noted. “Teams are going to come out and give their best effort. But we feel like as long as we’re guarding the rim and getting close-outs and the stops we need to get, [we’ll be alright].”
Then the three-pointers began falling in mass quantities, With 13:08 left, Luke Feely stepped up with a three, only his fifth of the year, as the UMHB bench leapt to its feet with enthusiasm. Just over a minute later, Braedyn Dawes swished one home from the left corner. Dawes ended up with a trio of three-pointers in the final 12 minutes, connecting on two from the same spot in the left corner in the span of 41 seconds, making the score 87-69.
UMHB held on from there, coasting to a high-scoring victory. A large part of that was the fact that the Crusaders turned the ball over just 10 times, holding onto the ball and finishing possessions with shots, rather than errant passes or SRSU steals.
“You look at Howard Payne, we dominated defensively,” Carroll said. “But it didn’t look like a great defensive effort in the second half because we were giving up live-ball turnovers for layups. We’re a team that’s going to spread it out, pass the ball, and take some chances with it. We really want to attack with passes, so sometimes we turn it over a little bit. When we can keep our turnover number to 10, we’re going to be dangerous.”
UMHB makes a trip up to the Pacific Northwest for two games, facing Linfield on Tuesday and Whitworth on Wednesday, just before Christmas. These two games, especially the contest against Whitworth, will be key to establishing UMHB’s regional ranking once NCAA tournament time rolls around. And the best part of it is the Crusaders are finally finding a rhythm,
“We had such a stop and start to our season,” Carroll said. “We haven’t felt any kind of rhythm, and basketball teams are very rhythmic. So having the start and stop to the season kind of threw us off. We just didn’t play well at Concordia or ETBU. Now we’re feeling good.
“We need these two games when it comes down to regional rankings and getting head-to-head results against other opponents and conferences in our region is huge. These are very important games that we’ll be focused on.”
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UMHB stat leaders
Points: Josiah Johnson (23), Ty Prince (18), Gibson Hearne (13)
Rebounds: Ty Prince (8), Nathan Stolz (4), Gibson Hearne (4)
Assists: Ty Prince (4), Luke Feely (4), Kyle Wright, Payton Brooks, Tra Snell (3)
Steals: Josiah Johnson (2), Kyle Wright (2)
Team shooting stats: 51.4% FG, 51.9% 3-point, 100% FT (5-of-5)