Photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
BELTON- On Thursday afternoon, the UMHB men’s basketball team watched its double-digit lead fade away in a three-point loss to Sul Ross State. On Saturday afternoon, the Crusaders saw a repeat, as Nebraska Wesleyan erased its 10-point second half lead.
Only this time around, UMHB battled back, and capped off 2022 in the win column, pulling out an 74-67 win that moved the Cru to 8-4 on the year.
“Adversity reveals character,” UMHB head coach Clif Carroll said postgame. “And adversity reveals what it takes to win at a high level.
“I think we’re seeing right now that we can get there, and we’ll be fine. We just have to continue to play for each other.”
Takeaways from the win
Strong scoring runs directed the second half
UMHB took a 34-28 lead into halftime, and widened that margin to 40-30 in the opening minutes of the second half. But the lead wasn’t to last.
“It was a crazy swing,” Carroll said. “We were up 10 and all of a sudden, I look up and we’re down six.”
NWU put together a 18-0 run in the blink of an eye, or more accurately, 5:17, as all the momentum shifted in the direction of the visitors. It seemed that everything went right for the Prairie Wolves, who took the lead for the first time since the 13:10 mark of the first half, on a layup that made it 41-40 after Walker Andrew connected on a three-pointer moments earlier. When NWU made it 46-40, Carroll had no choice but to call a timeout.
But even out of the timeout, NWU’s Carter Glenn raced up the court on a fastbreak, laying the ball into the basket, as he was fouled. His free throw made it 48-40, as Carroll tried to get his team back on track before the deficit grew any larger.
A UMHB steal led to Payton Brooks’ wide-open layup without a NWU defender within 20 feet of him, and the Crusaders began chipping away.
UMHB’s biggest run of the second half came five minutes later, with just four minutes left. As the lead changed hands back and forth, Walker connected on another three, taking a 60-58 lead. A 9-0 spurt from the Crusaders followed in the span of just over a minute and a half, as UMHB took back the momentum with the home crowd making its presence known.
“Credit to our guys,” Carroll said. “They stuck together. They fought for each other and figured out a way to get it.”
NWU forced the Cru to go deep into the shot clock
A big reason why NWU stayed competitive in the game went back to the defensive effort from the Prairie Wolves, who forced 10 first-half turnovers. That matched UMHB’s total number of turnovers from the loss to Sul Ross State on Thursday, as NWU pressured the ball with a well-executed zone defense, and forced the Crusaders deep into the shot clock on the majority of its offensive possessions.
“That zone is so hard to replicate,” Carroll noted.
After a couple of early shot clock violations, the Cru adjusted and attacked, even with the shot clock winding down. Simply put, nothing was forced, with UMHB moving the ball quickly around the perimeter, eventually opening up a shooting opportunity.
“We’ve been a very good team against the zone in my three years here,” Carroll added, mentioning that the game prep was difficult with Christmas break and a matchup against Sul Ross State looming ahead of Saturday’s contest. “We have good, talented kids and can move the ball. It just took us a little while to figure out where the holes were, and where we could find advantages.”
UMHB’s first lead of the game came at the 12:10 mark of the first half, on Sam Reaves’ long three-pointer with three seconds left on the shot clock. Reaves looked up, saw the clock running down, and calmly swished the shot that put the Cru in front, 11-9.
And even on UMHB’s first two possessions of the second half, the shot clock ran under five seconds, but the Crusaders scored both times.
“They do a good job and cover a lot of things,” Carroll said of the opposing defense. “It was even hard for our guys to figure out who was guarding them, because [NWU] was moving so much. I think in the last four minutes we really figured it out.”
Ty Prince stepped up in a big way
The UMHB forward finished with 19 points, seven of which were scored in the final five minutes of the win. That, along with precise passing which led to a team-high five assists gave way to a spectacular conclusion to the game for Prince.
With 4:06 left, Andrew broke a 58-58 tie, putting NWU up by two. But Prince responded on the other end of the floor, getting a short-range shot to fall that once again tied the score. And after a stop on the defensive end, Prince found the ball in his hands once again on UMHB’s next possession, and drove it to the rim, taking back the lead for the Crusaders, 62-60.
“Against a zone defense, Ty is big because he is big and can see [over the defense] to make those passes,” Carroll said. “I didn’t want to force the ball to Ty early. I wanted him to find a rhythm, but when it came to a high-leverage time, we got the ball in his hands. He found some great offense for us.”
Moving forwards: “We have to figure out what we can sacrifice individually”
In the aftermath of the frustrating loss to SRSU on Thursday, Carroll said he and his team did some “soul-searching” as they attempted to right the ship. Saturday’s victory certainly brought forth some encouraging signs, but as conference play gets set to resume, the Crusaders still have plenty of work ahead of them. Beyond what the stats or final box scores show, the driving force of a team is found in its ability to not only rise to the challenge, but step onto the court as a cohesive unit. It’s that cohesion that Carroll and his players are seeking out as the calendar turns from 2022 into 2023.
“Thursday was not acceptable for this program,” Carroll stated, without any sort of frustration in his tone. “[Coach Webb] does an unbelievable job of coaching and they beat us. So I’m not going to take anything away from him. But the mentality of this basketball team is not good right now. Our practice yesterday wasn’t “fixing” that. But we spent time watching film, asking tough questions, and answering tough questions, refocusing this team on what’s important.
“What we’ve found is we have a lot of different guys who are on different wavelengths , and we’re not fighting towards a common goal right now. It’s a shame because we’re one of the more talented teams in D-III. This is a team that can legitimately win a national championship. We had to do some soul searching this week. We have a lot of work in front of us.
“We’re not where we should be and we’re going to continue to work. We have great kids. This is not a product of having bad character kids or guys who don’t care about each other. This is just refocusing on our goals and making sure everybody is working for a common goal. We have to figure out what we can sacrifice individually for the greater good of the team.”
UMHB resumes ASC play at Ozarks on Thursday evening in Clarksville, Arkansas. Ozarks is 7-5 overall, and 2-3 in conference action.
UMHB stat leaders
Points: Josiah Johnson (26), Ty Prince (19), Kyle Wright (7)
Rebounds: Gibson Hearne (9), Josiah Johnson (8), Ty Prince (4), Nathan Stolz (4)
Assists: Ty Prince (5), Gibson Hearne (5), Josiah Johnson (4)
Team shooting stats: 50% FG, 13.6% 3-point, 78.9% FT