Previewing the Cru Classic presented by The Best of Belton
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vs. Sul Ross State: Date/Time: Dec. 29, 1:00 p.m.
vs. Nebraska Wesleyan: Date/Time: Dec. 31, 1:00 p.m.
Place: Mayborn Campus Center, Belton, Texas
Sul Ross State Lobos
Head coach: Xavier Webb (3rd season)
Located: Alpine, Texas
Conference: American Southwest
Overall Record: 3-8
Conference record: 1-5
Leading scorer: Julian Paredes (17.3 points per game)
Season summary: SRSU lost its first three contests, but got in the win column against then-No. 18 Trinity (TX) on Nov. 23, winning 93-88. The Lobos’ first win in conference play came three games into the ASC slate, taking a 90-83 victory over McMurry, and they enter this matchup 1-2 in their last three games.
Nebraska Wesleyan Prairie Wolves
Head coach: Dale Wellman (9th season)
Located: Lincoln, Nebraska
Conference: American Rivers (ARC)
Overall Record: 5-5
Conference Record: 2-2
Leading scorer: Peter Lash (20.7 PPG)
Season summary: NWU has been battle-tested this season, having faced Top 25 opponents in Illinois Wesleyan and UW-Oshkosh at the Small College Basketball Classic in mid-November. They have found various ways to win, playing at a breakneck pace against Greenville in a 151-99 win, while putting solid defense on display in a 62-56 win at Buena Vista. NWU enters these matchups in Belton having won three of its last four.
Head Coach: Clif Carroll (3rd season)
Conference: American Southwest
Overall Record: 7-3
Conference Record: 3-2
Leading scorer: Josiah Johnson (22.1 PPG)
Season summary: UMHB has learned how to win on the road, playing eight of its first 10 games away from Belton. The Crusaders opened ASC play 1-2, but rebounded with a 2-0 week in conference plate before Christmas, and added an exhibition victory over Texas State in San Marcos on Tuesday of that week. A pair of wins in Spokane, Washington gave UMHB plenty of confidence as the Crusaders head back home for their final non-conference games of the year.
The Cru Classic returns
This marks the first time that the Cru Classic has been held with Carroll as head coach. Covid and UMHB’s travel schedule to the D3hoops.com Classic in the past two seasons did not allow for this event to be held, but it was previously contested every season from 2016-2019. This does mark the first year in which another ASC school will play UMHB at the Cru Classic when Sul Ross battles the Crusaders on Thursday.
UMHB and SRSU are familiar opponents, as both play in the ASC and actually played in earlier this month. This will, in fact, be a non-conference game, almost two weeks to the day in which the league rivals battled in Belton on Dec. 17, with UMHB winning 93-80. The three-point shooting was the storyline in that one, as both teams shot above 50 percent from beyond the arc, even with each team attempting at least 27 three-pointers.
Experience will play no small role in the duel between UMHB and Nebraska Wesleyan
Both UMHB and NWU have been aided by strong senior leadership over the course of this season, considering each has quite a number of fourth and fifth-year players on its roster. The Prairie Wolves have five seniors, and the Cru roster lists eight seniors.
That said, young talent is also present for both teams, with NWU’s top scorer being 6-foot-6 sophomore Peter Lash, from Charlotte, North Carolina, and UMHB seeing contributions from sophomore Braedyn Dawes (4.6 PPG) and freshman Zachary Engels (3.7 PPG).
Consistent at the line
Nebraska Wesleyan and UMHB are two of the nation’s top teams at the free-throw line, and consistency on free throws has played a significant role in a number of wins for both teams this season. Carroll’s squad at UMHB ranks third nationally in free throw percentage (79.8%) while NWU is 30th, converting on 75.9% of shots at the charity stripe.
In the record books
UMHB’s Josiah Johnson, now in his third year at UMHB, is on pace for a number of program records, specifically in the scoring categories. His 1.539 career points as a Crusader rank second all-time, and are 156 points shy of the career record for 1,695 points set by Demarius Cress. Johnson is just nine three-pointers away from moving into No. 2 in UMHB history in career three-pointers made (he currently has 158) and is five field goals away from No. 3 all-time in that career stat category.