BELTON- The loss may have been before Christmas, but it was a loss the UMHB men’s basketball team had not forgotten. ETBU’s 72-64 defeat of the Crusaders in Marshall on Dec. 10 gave way to a winning run for 22nd-ranked UMHB, with the Cru having won 11 of their previous 12 entering Thursday night’s rematch with the Tigers.
And by the time the final buzzer sounded in Belton on Thursday evening, UMHB had won 12 of its last 13, challenging the Tigers in a way they did not in the last meeting over five weeks prior. Up-tempo and aggressive on the defensive end, the Crusaders emerged with an 89-78 win.
The first half played into UMHB’s favor, though gaining a lead did not come easily. ETBU led 6-3 early, and the lead changed hands four times in the first 20 minutes. Down 9-8 with 16:25 in the first half, UMHB’s Gibson Hearne came up with a steal in transition, racing to the other end on a fast-break layup, giving the Cru a 10-9 lead.
It was a lead UMHB did not let go of, heading into halftime up 45-34. UMHB shot 53.3 percent in the opening period, and that advantage was extended to as many as 16 points midway through the second half. But with 57.9 seconds left, Darry Moore’s shot for ETBU swished through the net, cutting the UMHB lead to 85-78.
10 seconds later, an intentional foul was called on the Tigers, leading to a pair of Luke Feely free throws. A dunk that was missed by Kevin Charles on ETBU’s next possession, sending the ball richoting into the second row of seats behind the ETBU bench, was the final straw in the Tigers’ potential comeback. UMHB had none of it, answering nearly every score from ETBU with one of its own, en route to the victory.
UMHB is now 14-4 overall, 9-2 in ASC play and second in the league. ETBU drops to third in the ASC standings, at 9-3, 15-4 overall.
3 takeaways from the win
Paint Points were key for both teams and accounted for over half of UMHB’s 89 points
ETBU had significant size in its forwards unit, with Kevin Charles (6’9), and Darry Moore (6’7) leading the way. Moore had 27 points, and Charles added 11, but UMHB went toe-to-toe against the Tigers in the paint. Despite a height disadvantage, the Crusaders found ways to get opportunities at the rim, finishing with 48 points in the paint, compared to 40 for ETBU.
“I told our guys, ‘We can’t let their size make us to where we’re just going to try to shoot it,’” UMHB head coach Clif Carroll said. “We don’t have a traditional post player, so we have to [get to the paint] with drives, cuts, and things like that. And when we’re doing that, it makes us a special team. We have to be aggressive.”
Pushing pace was part of UMHB’s game plan
Both UMHB and ETBU worked to keep the ball moving and take advantage of fast-break situations whenever possible. Transition points came for both teams at various points, such as at the 8:49 mark, when ETBU’s Kurt Labeaud scored on back-to-back possessions on fast-break layups, cutting UMHB’s lead back to single digits, 67-58. Or in the first five minutes of the first half, when Josiah Johnson, then Payton Brooks, each connected on fast-break jumpers as part of a 7-1 run that gave UMHB a sizable 21-14 lead.
Carroll said postgame that “pushing the pace” and keeping the gameflow fast was an objective for his team, especially with ETBU having four players in the starting lineup who ended up logging at least 30 minutes in the contest.
“We really wanted to push pace,” Carroll said. “I feel that though they are a high-scoring team, they’re very efficient. They don’t play very many guys and are not very deep on the bench, so we want to push their pace.”
Jerry Day Jr. made his varsity debut
Day is more well-known in Belton for his abilities as a wide receiver for the top-caliber UMHB football team, having been named All-ASC following the 2022 regular season, having caught 43 passes for 726 yards and seven touchdowns. But on Thursday night, he made his varsity debut on the hardwood for the Cru, and though he did not score, made his presence known on the defensive end, guarding ETBU leading scorer Aaron Gregg for the vast portion of the eight minutes in which he played. Day’s relentless defense- eyes fixed on the “ETBU” stitched across the front of the Tigers’ navy blue jerseys, solid footwork, and aggressive pressure on the ball- was exactly the kind of defensive intensity Carroll was looking for.
“This is why I coach,” Carroll noted when asked about Day. “This is a memory I’ll have forever. You could tell when he got into the game, there was an energy in the whole building. He hadn’t played basketball in three years, and he’s still working on getting back his basketball skills. Everytime he’s on the floor he gets better. He’s athletic, has long arms, and he’s quick. When we were looking at this gameplan, and what we’re going to do with [Aaron] Gregg, I thought, ‘JMac is the perfect guy for this.’ He’s certainly adding to our team everyday.”
UMHB battles LeTourneau in a rematch of the 2022 ASC championship game on Saturday at 3 p.m. in Belton.
UMHB stat leaders
Points: Josiah Johnson (27), Ty Prince (26), Luke Feely (14)
Rebounds: Ty Prince (7), Luke Feely (6), Kyle Wright (5)
Assists: Ty Prince (4)
Statement on UMHB women’s basketball from Clif Carroll
“I’m proud of our girls. In a tough week, they came out, and played hard. Kendra [Foreman] did awesome. I couldn’t be more proud of them. Our full support is behind them. We want to make sure that they finish the season strong and we’re going to do everything we can. Right now the best thing we can do is pray for them and encourage them. That’s men’s basketball’s role in all this. The way I view basketball at small colleges is we’re almost one program. I just want what’s best for those girls. They are the ones who get lost in this. Everybody is trying to figure out who is right and wrong. That doesn’t really matter. They are trying to fight and win and play for championships. That can get overshadowed sometimes. Those girls are courageous, and have so much spirit and fight in them. It’s really inspiring to me.”