Photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
BELTON- D.J. Kane flung the ball high into the air in jubilation. A loud roar came from the home crowd. The echo of the final buzzer sounded loud throughout the Mayborn Campus Center. With all the hype surrounding this battle for first place in the American Southwest Conference between UMHB and UT-Dallas, with all the momentum swings in this pivotal contest alone, the final moment of Thursday night’s 83-77 overtime win for the Crusaders was triumph on display.
The Cru led for just 3:13 of the entire 45-minute duel with the Comets, leading for just 17 seconds in the first half and never in the second half. Even in overtime, where UMHB outscored its opposition 17-11, the Cru had very little breathing room. Only when Luke Feely’s free throw swished in with eight seconds left in overtime did the Crusader faithful have a chance to breathe easy, now leading by six.
“We just never went away,” UMHB head coach Clif Carroll said postgame.
His team did not. Even in the face of a 15-point deficit with 13:41 left in regulation, and UTD holding the momentum, the Crusaders never wavered in their quest for an 11th straight victory. It is not part of the DNA of this team, and especially not the group that took the floor for Carroll on Thursday night. All but two of the players who checked into the game were on the roster a year ago, seeing action for a team that won three games in the NCAA Tournament.
“Dallas would make a run and put it to 10, and then we would fight back, find a way to get to the free throw line or get a steal,” Carroll added. “Several times we were discouraged, and frustrated. But we never stopped.”
How it happened
The first half played very much into the hands of UTD, with the Comets taking a 34-26 lead heading into the halftime intermission. UMHB led for just 17 seconds of the first 20 minutes, was outrebounded 22-19, and shot just 28.6 percent.
Of course that all led up to the comeback that culminated in a 9-0 run over the final 2:16 of the second half that was capped by a pair of free throws from Ty Prince with 40.6 seconds left. Prince’s free throws tied the score at 66, and when the final buzzer sounded, the ASC foes were still knotted at 66 apiece.
“When you make teams have to guard the rim, that kind of loosens up everything else,” Carroll said of the adjustments made between the first and second half. “We moved the ball a little better, and then we really picked up the defensive pressure.”
While UTD shot 42.9 percent in the second half, the Comets made half the number of threes they did in the first, converting on just 3-of-10 attempts from long range. And nine second-half turnovers led to 13 points for the Crusaders. In a game between two teams so evenly matched, every advantage was necessary. Every opportunity had to be seized.
“Offensively, we struggled, and I have to give credit to Dallas for the way they played us and the game plan Coach [Terry] Butterfield put together,” Carroll said. “But the mark of a good team is a team that can win when they don’t shoot it well. We’ve proven time and time again that we can figure it out.”
Indeed they did. 20 of their 40 second-half points came in the paint, and 10 of their 17 in overtime were also from short-range. UMHB got the job done in an NCAA-Tournament type setting, the atmosphere at top level inside the arena.
“I think this is one of those games where, probably 99 percent of teams in college basketball couldn’t win that game,” Carroll said, noting the many times his team fell behind by double digits. “I’m proud of my guys. They really played hard.”
UMHB stat leaders
Points: Josiah Johnson (21), Ty Prince (16), Nathan Stolz (14)
Rebounds: Luke Feely (9), Josiah Johnson (6), Nathan Stolz (5), Ty Prince (5)
Assists: Josiah Johnson (3), Ty Prince (3)
Record Note: UMHB’s Josiah Johnson broke the ASC record for free throws made in a career (516) in the win. He was 11-of-12 at the charity stripe and is converting 86.9 percent of his free throws this season.
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