BELTON- In a rematch between conference foes in non-conference play, Thursday’s duel between the UMHB men’s basketball team and Sul Ross State came down to the game’s final shot.
12 days prior, the Crusaders had used a strong shooting day to overpower the Lobos in a 93-80 win. But it was SRSU that came up victorious on the second go-around, pulling out an 83-80 victory late, handing UMHB its fourth loss of the season.
“We needed to take them way more seriously,” UMHB head coach Clif Carroll said. “We rolled into this thing thinking we were going to roll just because we had played well the first time. “That’s not the way this works.”
With 12:40 left in the game, Nathan Stolz stepped up with a three-pointer, extending UMHB’s lead to 52-42 as the Cru mounted an impressive 10-3 run. But unlike in the first meeting, SRSU did not fall back for long. Nearly three minutes later, the Lobos had put together a 10-2 run of their own, cutting the margin back to just two points.
The advantage for either team never got beyond three points for the final eight minutes, and SRSU in fact, took a 64-63 lead on Vince Peralez’s jumper with 7:07 left. The lead changed hands several times down the stretch, leading to a tied game with 50.9 seconds left. Luke Pluymen’s three-pointer with 22.6 seconds remaining was the final shot the Lobos needed to secure a win. A layup from Ty Prince got UMHB within a single point and 9.3 seconds left, but that was as close as the Crusaders got to victory.
“Just fight for one more stop,” SRSU head coach Xavier Webb told his team in the timeout huddle.
The Lobos made two free throws and forced a miss on a potential game-tying three-pointer, securing a major non-conference win over a conference rival.
3 takeaways from Thursday’s contest
SRSU stuck to its gameplan from 12 days ago, but fine-tuned it
Facing UMHB for the second time in the span of two weeks, SRSU did not change much about its plan of attack. They shot two fewer three-pointers, but still connected on exactly 50 percent of them (13-of-26). The Lobos also got the rim more, scoring 30 points in the paint, eight more than in the Dec. 17 matchup on the same court.
Webb said postgame that it was not a matter of “changing” the game plan entering the second meeting with the Crusaders. Rather it was approaching the matchup with more attention to detail, and executing those learning points from the 93-80 loss, which was fresh on SRSU’s mind.
“We were able to watch film and see our breakdowns in our game plan from the first time,” Webb said. “We kept the same game plan, and just paid more attention to our details and execution in this second go-around.”
Carroll felt the same way, especially in regards to SRSU’s second-half adjustments. UMHB led 38-31 at halftime, but SRSU outscored the Cru 52-42 in the final 20 minutes.
“[Xavier] did a great job,” Carroll said of Webb, who he coached at SRSU from 2015-2017. “He had them ready and he had some great adjustments. They shot the ball well, made big shots.”
No shot was bigger than Pluymen’s go-ahead three with under a minute left. Trey Nelson had a key role in SRSU’s win as well, scoring 32 points on an 11-of-18 shooting performance. 21 of those points came in the second half.
“It was good to see Trey put the ball through the hole,” Webb said. “Credit to his teammates. They did a great job finding the open man…that ended up being Trey quite a few times.”
Carroll: Energy lacked from UMHB
Look up and down the stat sheet and you will not find an area in which either team completely dominated. Both had 30 points in the paint. SRSU had 17 points off turnovers compared to UMHB’s 16. The Crusaders actually turned the ball over two fewer times than the Lobos, and outrebounded SRSU 35-33. But Carroll saw a significant difference in the energy level of his team, in contrast to that of the opposition.
“The energy was horrible, in the second half in particular,” Carroll said. “We weren’t together, we weren’t connected at all. Offensively, we didn’t help each other. I don’t know how long it’s been since we’ve made that many fundamental defensive mistakes where we give them layups.”
Getting short-range shots, especially against a UMHB defense that prides itself on taking away paint points, was a major plus for the Lobos. On one stretch with just under 10 minutes left, Nelson pulled down an offensive rebound then scored on a layup. Four seconds later, he had stolen a UMHB pass and scored again on yet another layup.
“They did a good job of catching us in some lazy switches,” Carroll said. “They really took advantage of us being soft inside. Paint points are huge.”
Where do you go from here?
For both teams, this contest is likely to be a pivotal point in the season, with two months left in the regular season schedule.
SRSU, who was 4-7 overall entering Thursday’s duel, starts off the second semester of the year with a major confidence builder, especially as ASC play gets set to resume. Though it will not improve the Lobos’ 1-5 conference mark, Thursday’s win showed that if things start clicking on a more consistent basis, SRSU has as much chance at the ASC title as anyone in the league.
“Hopefully we can learn from the first semester and let this be the springboard into a more consistent second semester,” Webb said. “We’ll have to rely on our leaders to help keep this level.”
And though it was a loss for UMHB, this is perhaps the essence of the non-conference play, to have the opportunity to learn through game action outside of the league schedule, when every game counts in the race for the conference championship.
“Whether you win or lose, you learn lessons,” Carroll said postgame. “And hopefully we’ll learn a lesson that will keep us from losing a game later on in the year.
“Ideally, you don’t play them three times,” he added, noting that the Cru will travel to Alpine for a third meeting with SRSU on Feb. 2. “But maybe the next time we play them down in Alpine, our guys will take it a little more seriously and we’ll be more prepared.”
UMHB returns to action, when the Crusaders host Nebraska Wesleyan at 1pm on Saturday. SRSU faces NWU on Friday at 1 p.m. in Belton.
UMHB stat leaders
Points: Josiah Johnson (25), Ty Prince (16), Kyle Wright (9)
Rebounds: Josiah Johnson (7), Ty Prince (6), Gibson Hearne (6)
Assists: Ty Prince (4), Zachary Engels (4), Josiah Johnson (4)
Team shooting stats: 44.4% FG, 33.3% 3-point, 82.4% FT