BELTON- It took little time for the UMHB men’s basketball team to gain a lead on Hardin-Simmons in Thursday night’s ASC duel, and the Crusaders never relinquished the advantage, winning 92-77.
“Now we have four more games at home, and if we win these four games, we’ll be on top of the standings,” UMHB head coach Clif Carroll said postgame. “We have to play well at home.”
The Cru certainly did that in front of a sizable crowd against the Cowboys, shooting 56.3 percent, while controlling the pace and tallying 50 points in the paint. UMHB’s win moves the Cru to 11-4 overall, and 6-2 in the American Southwest Conference. HSU dropped to 9-5, 4-3 in ASC play.
3 takeaways from the win
The fast start from the Cru set the tone
Perhaps it was the large crowd on hand for the contest, or the momentum carried in from Saturday’s road win at first-place UT-Dallas, but UMHB’s start on both ends of the floor was at an unparalleled level of intensity compared to the way the Crusaders have started in recent contests.
After the first 1:30 went by with no score for either side, Kyle Wright gathered a loose ball and sprinted towards the other end, laying the ball in for a 2-0 lead. Just over 25 seconds later, Ty Prince came up with a dunk as the entire arena erupted in a roar. Exactly five minutes after Prince’s dunk, Luke Feely drove to the rim, and his layup made it 16-4. HSU simply had no counter.
“The ball was moving, we were attacking weak spots and doing a good job defensively not letting them get into rhythm,” Carroll said of the quick start. “Steven Quinn made a couple of Superman shots [for HSU] and they got to the free throw line a little bit, but other than that, they didn’t get much in the first half.”
It was truly a tale of two halves
In what Carroll accurately described as a ‘tale of two halves’ postgame, UMHB went into halftime leading 46-27, but a 20-11 scoring run from the Cowboys midway through the second half cut the margin to just 10, 81-71, with 4:25 left. HSU shot 48.7 percent in the final 20 minutes, compared to just 33.3 percent in the opening half.
HSU upped the intensity coming out of the locker room, and outscored the Cru 50-46 in the second half, though UMHB extended its lead as wide as 16 on Luke Feely’s jumper before the final buzzer sounded.
“In the second half, I didn’t know what that team was,” Carroll said with a chuckle. “I’m frustrated with them for that, but we’ll take a 15-point win against a good team any time.”
The difference between the two halves was most noticeable on the defensive end, an area Carroll said his team will need to focus on moving forwards. Based on what the first half saw UMHB do defensively, two halves of that caliber of play could take the Cru deep in the postseason.
“First half, it was really good [defensively],” Carroll added. “In the second half, we relaxed. And we have to be better about that and stay focused on playing two halves. But the way we played in the first half, we’re going to be tough to beat.”
Luke Feely had a break-out performance
UMHB tallied 46 points off the bench, 24 of which came from senior forward Luke Feely, who played 24 minutes, shot 12-of-17, and pulled down a team-best seven rebounds. On two consecutive possessions late in the game, UMHB displayed its ability to push the ball in transition, with Ty Prince getting it to Feely for layups both times, as Feely raced ahead of the defense, caught the ball in the air, and laid it off the glass before his feet touched down on the hardwood.
Carroll said the way HSU was defending Prince and Josiah Johnson created some additional opportunities on the offensive end for Feely. And more importantly, Feely played with an unmatched intensity.
“The first thing you have to figure out in the puzzle of guarding us is how you’re going to handle Ty and Josiah,” Carroll said. “The way they were doing it tonight opened up the driving lanes for Luke. He made some incredible effort plays. He played with great intensity. I couldn’t be more proud of Luke.
“He’s faced some adversity over the last couple weeks. We’ve got him locked in. Him playing like that, attacking the boards like that, along with him being able to shoot the ball a little better this year, makes us a better team.”
UMHB faces McMurry on Saturday at 3 p.m. in Belton. The Warhawks, a program Carroll head coached for two years in his first stint as a head coach, are 4-10 overall, with a 3-4 mark in ASC play.
UMHB stat leaders
Points: Luke Feely (24), Josiah Johnson (21), Kyle Wright (12)
Rebounds: Luke Feely (7), Kyle Wright (6), Josiah Johnson (6)
Assists: Ty Prince (8), Kyle Wright (4), Zachary Engels (2)