SPOKANE, Wash.-It was raining the day UMHB opened its season at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on Nov. 8. The Crusaders had arrived in California no more than 24 hours before, and struggled in a 81-70 loss.
Fast forward six weeks. On Tuesday, it was snowing in Spokane, Washington. The temperature was below 10 degrees with Christmas five days away. But UMHB executed almost perfectly, displaying its ever-evolving maturation in a 78-61 victory over Linfield.
“We had a long day of travel yesterday and came out today and there’s snow on the ground,” UMHB head coach Clif Carroll said. “And we went in there tonight, and Linfield immediately makes three threes in a row. If you remember back to Claremont, we had a tough day of travel, it was raining, they hit three threes in a row, and we just self-destructed.”
But that did not happen Tuesday night. UMHB stayed poised, found a key run midway through the first half, and took the lead, holding on for the win.
“Today shows the growth. Today shows that we’ve gotten better from game one to game 10. It was a good sign for our team.”
UMHB is now 6-3 overall, while Linfield drops to 4-5 this season.
How it happened
Linfield’s approach was largely reliant on its ability to push the ball upcourt in transition and connect on three-point shots. The Wildcats were successful in doing both in the game’s opening minutes, as Anthony Flint took the lead on a three-pointer at the 18:58 mark and Linfield raced out to an 11-4 advantage within the game’s first four minutes. UMHB was just 2-of-5 from the field by that point, with all four points coming from forward Luke Feely.
UMHB’s aggressive defense eventually slowed Linfield’s offensive success, though the Wildcats did not let go of the lead easily. Two free throws from Feely made it 14-13, but Linfield responded with a fast break less than a minute later, as Trey Bryant’s layup widened the margin to three. And so it went. UMHB shot a respectable 5-of-11 in the first eight minutes of the opening half, but each time the Crusaders trimmed the deficit to a single point, Linfield came up with a play that extended it once again.
Finally, UMHB broke through, at the 10:51 mark when Josiah Johnson swished a pair of free throws, making it 18-17. This time, Linfield did not score on the offensive end. Instead, the Crusaders forced a missed three-pointer, and gathered the rebound, bringing the ball back down the floor, with a chance at their first lead of the game. Gibson Hearne found Zachary Engels in the right corner, and Engels promptly connected on the three-point shot, giving UMHB a 20-18 advantage.
It was a lead UMHB only widened as the first half played out. By the seven-minute mark, the Cru led 26-19. A minute and a half later, two more free throws from Johnson had made the score 34-19. In all, UMHB put together a 19-1 run in the span of just six minutes.
“The guys trusted each other and what the game plan was,” Carroll said. “We knew we were going to force [Linfield] into some three-point shooting, and they’re a good three-point shooting team. We knew that was going to be a challenge.”
With 1:39 left in the first half, Braedyn Dawes found himself wide-open in the right corner, in nearly the same position from which Engels had captured the lead midway through the half. Dawes called for the ball, and once he got it into his hands, the Cedar Park native did not hesitate, quickly releasing a three-point shot that swished through the net, establishing a 47-27 lead for UMHB.
Linfield opened the second half on an 8-5 run, cutting into what had been a 48-30 halftime lead for UMHB, but the Wildcats did not get much closer. The Cru’s approach did not change throughout the second half, as the visitors from Belton maintained a significant double-digit lead over the game’s final 20 minutes. A free throw from Linfield’s Alex Jaczko cut the UMHB lead to 17, 61-44, with 13:26 remaining. But three free throws and a layup from Hearne made it a 20-point game two minutes later, and from that point on, UMHB’s advantage dipped below 20 points on just three occasions.
“In our last two games, we had significant leads at halftime, but against Howard Payne [we allowed] 40 points in the second half, and against Sul Ross, it was a 50-point half,” Carroll said. “So I was happy today with only giving up 31 points in the second half. We may have took our foot off the pedal scoring-wise, but defensively, we were really good.”
UMHB battles Whitworth in Spokane Wednesday night. That matchup tips off at 8 pm CT. Whitworth is 5-4 overall and has long been considered one of the best teams in Region 10.
“That’s a big-time game,” Carroll said. “This is a game that I wanted and sought out. We want to play big-time competition and Whitworth has been one of the best teams in our region for a long time. You go into their gym and they have banners from 27 conference championships in their history. These are the kind of games we want for our program.”
UMHB stat leaders
Points: Josiah Johnson (23), Luke Feely, Ty Prince, Braedyn Dawes (10)
Rebounds: Zachary Engels (6), Josiah Johnson, Kyle Wright, Nathan Stolz (4)
Assists: Ty Prince (5), Kyle Wright (4), Josiah Johnson (3)
Team shooting stats: 43.6% FG, 37% 3-point, 74.1% FT