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JOHNSON WINS IT AT THE BUZZER! Late 3 lifts UMHB men’s basketball to 72-70 victory over ETBU in 2nd Round of NCAA Tournament

Photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru

BELTON- The entire crowd was on its feet. 

The noise level inside the Mayborn Campus Center was quite possibly louder than it had been at any point in the season. 

UMHB head coach Clif Carroll noted on Friday night that his team had kept the home crowd entertained, producing thrilling games all season. So it was fitting that this second round matchup would come down to the final shot, deciding who would move onto the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and who would see their season end on this Saturday night in early March. 

The UMHB men’s basketball team stepped back onto the floor, 11 seconds on the clock, now trailing ETBU 70-69. A few seconds earlier, the Cru was in front, but Aaron Gregg stepped up with his third 3-pointer of the night moments earlier, giving ETBU the advantage. 

The ball found its way into the hands of Josiah Johnson, who, after scoring just six points in the first round win over Schreiner, had scored 29 tonight, 22 of which had come in the second half. 

He dribbled to his right, then spun, and lost the ball for a brief second. When he regained his dribble, his eyes turned to the clock, fixated atop the UMHB basket, the basket he needed to put the ball through for a victory in what had been a back-and-forth battle between ASC foes. In a fluid motion, the senior guard put up a shot, just a few feet in front of the UMHB bench. There was no time to do anything else. 

The ball hung in the air for what felt like an eternity. Then it fell in. 

“We were one stop away,” ETBU head coach Chris Lovell said postgame. “[Johnson] fumbled it, picked it up, launched it, and you’re watching it, [thinking], ‘Ah, man…’”

“It was a special night that we’ll always remember,” Carroll added. 

Johnson’s 3-pointer provided a dramatic finish to the 72-70 victory for UMHB over the visiting Tigers, who walked off the court stunned, to say the least. It was a stunning finish indeed, highlighted by 11 ties, seven lead changes, and two teams who refused to go away. 

“I was going to go for 2, because they always tell you to go for 2 at the end of the game,” Johnson said. “Once I lost it, I knew I had to take the three.” 

With 1:56 remaining in the contest, Johnson converted on a pair of free throws, putting UMHB up, 65-61. Then came a counter from ETBU. Gregg swished a 3-pointer, cutting the deficit to a single point. A timeout was called with 49.1 seconds left, and by that point, the contest was tied once again, at 67 apiece. 

“You fight and you try to give yourself a chance,” Lovell said.

Then came another 3-pointer from Gregg and Johnson’s game-winner at the buzzer that followed. For much of the second half, it was that way. The lead for either team grew to four points just twice in the final 10 minutes, as the margin stayed within two or three points for much of it. 

“Hopefully the way these kids competed tonight will garner some respect across the nation for divison three basketball in Texas,” Carroll said. “These kids can play with anybody in the country. Anybody that watched that game tonight has to understand that these are two of the best teams in the country.”

UMHB shot 61.5 percent from the field in the second half, a statistic Carroll credited to the Cru’s “team offense” and ball movement. It was a stark difference from the first half, which saw UMHB shoot 34.4 percent, and convert on just 2-of-8 3-point attempts. 

“Team-wise, we ran better offense [in the second half],” Carroll said. “We got to our spots. We had good spacing. And we put them in some difficult situations, trying to guard the different types of guys we had on the floor. I felt like we had great team shots tonight.” 

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Defense was the name of the game in the early minutes, with neither side scoring until ETBU’s Kevin Charles’ short-range shot fell through at the 17:09 mark. Though the Tigers opened the game with a 4-0 lead–both made shots coming from Charles–they also turned the ball over four times in the game’s first five minutes, as UMHB displayed its defensive intensity. 

The only problem was that the Cru struggled to score. UMHB missed its first nine shots, and went down 21-9 on Jaden Conner’s layup at the 8:25 mark. Carroll had no choice but to use a timeout.

“The way their big guys can protect the rim is elite,” Carroll noted of ETBU. “It was bothering us. I think nerves were part of it too. We were missing some shots we had been able to make.”

The timeout worked. Nathan Stolz hit a 3-pointer less than 30 seconds later, sparking what turned out to be the most pivotal scoring run of the first half. The Crusaders flipped the momentum, scoring 15 of the next 19 points. 

Johnson’s three-point play, which included him converting on a difficult shot at the rim while also drawing a foul, capped the 15-4 spurt. The combination of the layup and free throw tied the score at 24 apiece with three minutes, 33 seconds, left in the opening half.

Though ETBU regained the advantage twice in the final three minutes, it was UMHB who held the halftime lead, having scored the final four points to go up 30-29. ETBU led for 13 minutes, 35 seconds of the first half, while the Cru held the lead for a mere 30 seconds. In the game as a whole, the Tigers were in front for just under six minutes more than UMHB (17:10 to 11:12).

UMHB’s victory puts the Cru into the third round of the NCAA Tournament, facing Christopher Newport in a game that will likely be played on CNU’s home floor in Newport News, Virginia. Official details on next Friday night’s matchup will be released Sunday.

“This is going to be a big-time college basketball game,” Carroll said. “Their stands will be full. We’re fired up.” 

UMHB stat leaders

Points: Josiah Johnson (32), Ty Prince (15), DJ Kane (10)

Rebounds: Luke Feely (7), Ty Prince (6), Josiah Johnson (3) 

Assists: Kyle Wright (5), Ty Prince (5)

Team shooting stats: 46.6% FG, 35.3% 3-point, 66.7% FT

Riley Zayas
Riley Zayas founded True To The Cru in November of 2020 with the goal to cover the stories behind the score and give UMHB fans a closer look at the Cru while promoting the student-athletes and coaches that wear the purple and gold every day. He is also a national contributor to and, in addition to serving as a D3 women's basketball Top 25 voter. His byline has also been seen in: Sports Illustrated Kids, Horns Illustrated, College Baseball Nation, and FCA Williamson County. Follow him on Twitter @ZayasRiley.

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