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UMHB, 68, Sul Ross State, 55: UMHB men’s hoops wins 9th straight in West Texas

ALPINE, Texas- The UMHB men’s basketball team, ranked 24th in the nation, bounced back from a non-conference loss to Sul Ross State in late December, taking down the Lobos on Thursday night, 68-55, in conference action. 

The victory is UMHB’s ninth straight, and moves the Cru to 16-4 overall and 11-2 in American Southwest Conference play. SRSU drops to 6-15, with a 3-11 mark in the ASC. 

The opening half began much in the same way that the previous two contests between the Crusaders and Lobos had played out, with a very narrow margin separating the conference foes. Gibson Hearne connected on consecutive jump-shots in the first 90 seconds of the game, putting UMHB in front, 4-2. 

Defense was an obvious focal point in each team’s gameplan, as neither gave an inch-or an open shot. After Trey Nelson’s jumper tied the score at 2-2, with 18:42 left in the first half, the Lobos did not score again until Nelson converted on a three-pointer at the 12:08 mark. UMHB also had spans, though much shorter, in which points proved hard to come by. 

But the Cru put together a 10-3 run with just under 10 minutes left, taking a 23-13 lead, with Andrew Schultz, a transfer from Louisville in his UMHB debut, accounting for four of those points. 

By halftime, UMHB led 27-22. Determined not to have a repeat of the Dec. 29 loss in Belton, in which the Cru went into halftime up 38-31, but fell 83-80 after being outscored by 10 in the second half, UMHB sprang out of the gates in the form of a 14-2 run. By the 15:10 mark of the second half, the visitors from Belton led 41-24. 

With 9:17 remaining, Josiah Johnson scored on a layup off of an offensive rebound, putting UMHB in front by 21, 54-33. The Crusaders led by as many as 23 points with just over 10 minutes left, before SRSU slowly closed the deficit below 20. The Lobos never got closer than 13 points as UMHB cruised to the win. 

The Cru shot 58.1 percent from the field in a strong second half, outscoring the Lobos, 41-33. Johnson led the way with 18 points, Luke Feely had 12, and Hearne also scored in double figures, with 10 on the day. Feely had a team-best eight rebounds, and Johnson had three steals and three blocks, both of which were team highs. 

3 takeaways from the win

This time around, Carroll saw a much better effort put forth by his squad

In the loss to SRSU in late December, one of Carroll’s main frustrations was not in any particular stat, but rather the overall effort displayed by his team. On Thursday night, effort was not a problem whatsoever, with the Crusaders battling the Lobos especially well on the defensive end. SRSU was just 9-of-40 from 3-point range, an area in which is typically their strength, and also turned the ball over 15 times. Carroll added that a stronger defensive presence will be necessary for his squad in the homestretch of ASC play and, hopefully,in a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance. 

“The way we played right after Christmas was embarrassing.” UMHB head coach Clif Carroll said. “I went back and watched that game to game plan and scout and I couldn’t stomach how poor our effort was [in that one]. Not to take away from Sul Ross; they beat us and made the shots. But our effort needed to be better.

“I felt like it was in the first half particularly, and for most of the second it was too. We had a four minute stretch in the second half where we weren’t very good, but made some substitutions and got the intensity back up. We need to keep taking those steps. We know we have to be better defensively.” 

Transfer Andrew Schultz was solid in his CRU debut

Carroll was asked postgame about Schultz, who finished with seven points in nine minutes, shooting 2-of-4, and also pulled down two offensive rebounds. Having been sidelined by an injury previously, Schultz’s addition to the rotation only extended UMHB’s depth coming off the bench. 

“I feel like he’s had some pressure on him from himself to get back to the form of where he was before he tore his knee up. Physically, he’s fine. It’s mental things that he has to clear. He had a really good week of practice, and was moving well, getting rebounds. We thought this might be a good game to give him a taste, out here and away from home. I put him in and it didn’t take him more than 10 seconds to get an offensive rebound. I was proud of him tonight.” 

“We need to move the ball better”: Improving from Thursday’s win

Moving into Saturday’s road matchup at Howard Payne, one of the main areas Carroll is looking for improvement is in the offensive ball movement. The Crusaders’ offense is at its best when the ball is passed quickly around the perimeter, opening up opportunities to cut towards the basket, and three-point shots as well. UMHB was just 2-of-14 on 3-pointers and recorded just nine assists, five below its average. 

“We needed to move the ball better. The last couple weeks, we’ve gotten away from being ball movers and great teammates. But this is our second game in a row where we hit only two threes. We have to find a way where we’re in better rhythm, finding better shots and moving the ball better.”

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