The UMHB men’s basketball team is second-round bound.
A sequence of clutch free throw shooting and a late miss from Schreiner on Friday night provided the difference in the Cru’s dramatic 81-78 victory over the Mountaineers. The win earns UMHB a spot in Saturday evening’s second-round duel with ETBU, who defeated St. Thomas (TX) earlier in the day.
With one minute left, the score was knotted at 74 apiece. Josiah Johnson, the ASC’s Player of the Year, had been quiet, held to just six points. But Johnson came through with a free throw, breaking the tie, and putting UMHB in front.
All seven of UMHB’s points in the final minute of play came at the free-throw line, three of which were made by Kyle Wright. Even still, Schreiner was within striking distance until the final buzzer. With 8.6 seconds to play, AJ Aungst connected on a 3-pointer for the Mountaineers, cutting UMHB’s lead to a single point, 79-78.
Wright made a pair of free throws on the other end, extending the lead to three, but Beau Cervantes took one final shot for Schreiner. A 3-pointer would have sent the game into overtime. But Cervantes’ shot left his hands a fraction of a second after the final buzzer sounded. It was off the mark anyway.
The victory marks the second straight season that UMHB advanced past the first round of the NCAA Tournament. A year ago, it was just as close against Chapman in the opening round. And in the same way as they did Friday night, the Crusaders found a way to emerge with a victory.
“All year, we’ve been giving our crowds thrilling games,” UMHB head coach Clif Carroll said postgame. “Tonight was no different.”
Though UMHB led 36-34 at halftime, Schreiner took control of the momentum in the early minutes of the second half. The Mountaineers tied the score on multiple occasions in the first five minutes, but with 13:16 remaining, Bronson Evans put Schreiner in front.
His short-range shot off the backboard gave the visitors from Kerrville a 51-50 lead. 26 seconds later, Dylan Mackey connected on a 3-pointer, giving Schreiner a four-point advantage. The lead swelled to as many as six points when a 7-2 run from Mountaineers came midway through the half.
But UMHB’s counter attack put the Cru right back in it. And the 6-0 run over the span of two plays followed the exact same pattern. It was almost like watching the play on repeat. Johnson came up with a steal, and the ball found its way to Payton Brooks. Brooks fired a 3-pointer. Swish. Schreiner’s lead was down to two.
Then came another Johnson steal, and another Brooks 3-pointer. And UMHB retook the lead, up 65-64. The advantage for either team never grew to more than five points over the game’s final five minutes.
“Payton has been due,” Carroll said, adding that Brooks was out for several weeks with an injury towards the end of the regular season. “I grabbed him right before he walked onto the court and said, ‘Hey, play with confidence.’ He said, ‘Coach, I do.’ And he did.”
Almost from the opening tip, UMHB had the advantage, going up 4-1 on Ty Prince’s turnaround jumper before mounting a 7-0 scoring run for an 11-3 lead. The Crusaders made five of their first eight shots, guided to the eight-point advantage by Nathan Stolz’s early offensive success. The senior forward scored six of the Cru’s first 14 points, including five in the span of the 7-0 spurt, as he connected on a 3-pointer just over three minutes in, then followed with a layup one minute, 10 seconds later.
Schreiner stayed in contention through its 3-point shooting, refusing to go away, even as UMHB went up by 12 with 9:05 left in the half. The Mountaineers converted on six 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes, including one from Darian Gibson that cut UMHB’s lead back to just three points, 31-28. Gibson had eight of the Mountaineers’ first 13 points.
“It’s always tough when you have to play your friends, period,” Carroll said, noting his friendship and respect for Schreiner head coach Marwan Elrakabawy. “But what an effort from his guys. They never went away. They never quit.”
That 7-1 scoring spurt upped the intensity from both sides, as the Cru put the next four points on the board, regaining a seven-point lead on Luke Feely’s steal-turned-Prince layup with 4:12 remaining.
As it turned out, that was the final time UMHB scored from the field, as the Cru missed its final seven shots of the half. Meanwhile, Schreiner caught fire, and closed the period on a 16-6 run. Alex Dehoyos’ 3-pointer, which came off a UMHB turnover, cut the hosts’ advantage to a mere two points heading into halftime.
Even when their backs were against the wall, both in Schreiner’s late first half run, and the stretch midway through the second that led to the Mountaineers’ six-point lead, senior guard Gibson Hearne said the Crusaders were not phased.
“We have been in this position quite a bit,” Hearne said. “We’re a pretty mature team. We stayed together and knew that eventually they weren’t going to keep hitting those shots and we would get stops when we needed to.”
Tip-off from Belton tomorrow night is set for 7:20 p.m. UMHB is now 22-5 overall, while ETBU, the ASC champion, is 24-5.
“We’re going to have to figure out how to guard the paint,” Carroll said of Saturday’s matchup. “They’re going to take the ball to rim the every possession. We do realize they have one of our nets already [from winning the ASC Tournament in Belton last week]. We’re going to fight them. We’re going to fight to keep our nets up.”
UMHB stat leaders
Points: Luke Feely (20), Kyle Wright (17), Ty Prince (14)
Rebounds: Ty Prince (11), Luke Feely (6), Josiah Johnson (4), Nathan Stolz (4)
Assists: Josiah Johnson (7), Kyle Wright (5), Ty Prince (4)
Team shooting stats: 46% FG, 40% 3pt, 68% FT