Photo by William Roberts/@C1osen/True To The Cru
NEWPORT NEWS, Va.-The UMHB men’s basketball team had staged plenty of comebacks entering Friday night’s Round of 16 matchup in the NCAA Tournament against Christopher Newport.
But against the nation’s No. 2 team, an 11-point halftime deficit proved too vast to overcome.
CNU punched its ticket to the Elite Eight in a 72-60 victory, ending UMHB’s second straight 20-plus win season with a 23-4 overall record. In a season that began with three games on the west coast in California, it ended on the east coast, with plenty of memorable moments sandwiched in between.
“I’m proud of my guys,” UMHB head coach Clif Carroll said postgame. “We knew from the time we saw the bracket that this was going to be a bear of a game. It turned out that way. They started the game lights out, we fought our way back, but just could never get over the hump.”
Ty Prince excelled for UMHB in the second half after putting just six on the board in the first 20 minutes, as the senior forward stepped up in his final collegiate game with a 33-point performance.
That was the good news. The bad news was that UMHB struggled to find much offense otherwise, as CNU’s relentless defense offered few open shots, especially down the stretch. Nathan Stolz had 13 points in the first half, but just two in the second. And nobody else, including ASC Player of the Year Josiah Johnson, scored more than three points in the game.
Even with Johnson, who entered averaging 21.6 points per game, held to a single point in the 40-minute contest, UMHB remained within striking distance for most of the game. And though it did not show up in the point totals, several players stepped up on both ends of the floor.
“We have really good players, up and down the roster, that we trust,” Carroll said postgame. “People really question if we can we get it done without Josiah. I’m proud of the other guys. They fought. They moved the ball. They found a way to get it close.”
The Crusaders shot 37.9 percent from the field, almost identical to CNU’s 37.7 percent. They also converted nine 3-pointers to the Captains’ seven. But CNU came through at the free throw line, starting the game 10-for-10, and finished having made 19 of 26 attempts from the line. The defensive effort from the Captains proved notable as well. Very few UMHB shots went uncontested.
“Our guys were locked in defensively,” CNU head coach John Krikorian commented on the CNU postgame show.
One of the major keys in CNU’s victory came in the rebounding column, where the Captains took advantage of their size, especially in the post, and tallied 48 rebounds to UMHB’s 35. 19 of those came on the offensive end for CNU, extending possessions, and wearing down the Crusader defense. The hosts tallied 13 second-chance points in the victory.
“I thought the glass was critical for us ,” Krikorian noted postgame. “Ian Anderson had 10 rebounds off the bench. I though that was a huge part of the game.”
CNU led 36-25 at halftime, but UMHB found its footing early in the second half, opening the final 20 minutes on a 9-3 scoring run. That got the Cru within five points of the lead, and by the 13:14 mark, Prince’s third 3-pointer of the second half cut CNU’s advantage to a mere four points.
The Captains responded with a layup, but three minutes later, DJ Kane converted on his only made shot of the contest, putting UMHB within four points once again. It was at that point that CNU countered in its most critical scoring spurt of the second half, as the Captains put 11 of the next 13 points on the board, en route to a 59-46 lead.
“We found ourselves in a heck of a battle,” Krikorian said. “I thought our guys, in the second half, were able to make a spurt with some defensive stops. It really allowed us to get out and get a few easy baskets.”
The lead remained in double digits for CNU until Prince connected on another 3-pointer with just over two minutes remaining. It breathed some life back into UMHB’s potential rally, as the deficit shrunk to eight. But that ended up being as close as the Crusaders came, as the CNU closed the contest on a 7-3 run. Krikorian said he had prepared his team for the Cru’s late surge, considered UMHB had pulled off late comebacks on numerous occasions this season, including in last Saturday’s 72-70 second-round win over ETBU.
“As we knew and we talked about, Mary Hardin-Baylor wasn’t going to quit or go away,” Krikorian said. “We’ve seen the fantastic finishes they’ve had over the last year or two. And we didn’t want to be in that position. I thought our guys did a good job of making sure it didn’t get to that point. We were able to maintain separation.”
“At the end of the day, we just made too many mistakes,” Carroll said. “Defensively, we had a couple breakdowns that allowed them to get some open shots that they buried, to their credit.”
The opening half began and ended in a similar fashion, with CNU taking a double-digit lead in both instances. Stolz took UMHB’s first shot of the contest after the Cru won the opening tip, connecting on a 3-pointer less than 15 seconds in.
On UMHB’s second possession, Stolz fired–and swished–another 3, giving the visitors from Belton a 6-2 advantage. But an 11-4 scoring run soon followed from the Captains, who jumped out to a 15-10 lead thanks to eight points from Ty Henderson and seven more from Jahn Hines.
“Nate certainly did start the game,” Carroll noted. “We knew if we could get the ball moving, we could find Nate in some space.”
For the rest of the first half, the Cru played catch-up, showing flashes of offensive momentum, but never able to put together a lengthy-enough run to retake the lead. The closest UMHB came was with 5:03, when a pair of free throws from Stolz cut the deficit to four, 25-21.
CNU headed into halftime with a comfortable advantage, having scored nine of the final 11 points in the opening period.
The loss is certainly tough to swallow, but this team, and especially this senior class, contributed so much to the program, especially in the last two seasons. UMHB had not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2013 until they did so last year, and in each of the last two seasons, the Cru won at least two games in the NCAA Tournament. Even in the defeat, Carroll commended his team’s “fight” until the final buzzer.
“I’m proud [of my guys] for the fight that they’ve shown and the adversity that we fought through this year,” he said. “This won’t be the last time you see the Cru back in this position. We’ll be back.”
UMHB stat leaders
Points: Ty Prince (33), Nathan Stolz (15), Payton Brooks (3), DJ Kane (3)
Rebounds: Ty Prince (6), Josiah Johnson (6), Luke Feely (6)
Assists: Kyle Wright (5), Josiah Johnson (4)