File Photo: Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru/russellmarwitz.com
SEGUIN, Texas–Challenged on the defensive end by Texas Lutheran’s ball movement and shot-making ability for the better portion of Wednesday night, UMHB men’s basketball saw its two-game win streak snapped in the third game of the 2023 campaign by the narrowest of margins: 78-77.
The Bulldogs shot 46.7 percent from the field over the final 20 minutes, and were 11-of-16 from the free-throw line in that same span. It marked TLU’s first victory of the season.
“[TLU head coach] Austin Falke had his guys ready to go,” UMHB head coach Clif Carroll noted postgame. “They had an unbelievable crowd, and came out and played really hard. All you have to do is look at the rebounding numbers and see who played harder tonight.”
TLU outrebounded UMHB, 40-31, and that included 11 offensive rebounds for the Bulldogs compared to just six for the Crusaders. That contributed to the 13-point deficit UMHB found itself facing with just 12:52 left in the game. Though the Cru rallied late and took the lead multiple times down the stretch, the they never established enough separation to put TLU away.
And it was the Bulldogs who delivered the final strike, as DJ Ardoin converted on a free throw with just 4.3 seconds left, giving his team the 78-77 lead. Throughout the course of the game, TLU established continual success behind precise passing, which got UMHB’s defense out of position, and led to a number of layups and open 3-point shots for the hosts.
“They did a really nice job,” Carroll added. “Defensively, we were bad. We didn’t get enough ball pressure. They were able to zip the ball around and take advantage of some holes and communication breakdowns. We gambled for steals that we couldn’t get and it put us out of position.”
The Bulldogs led for the majority of the final 20 minutes, with a 9-2 scoring run at the beginning of the second half putting TLU in front, 43-35. That margin widened to 13 points when LaDarius King’s 3-pointer fell through the net and gave the hosts a commanding 55-42 advantage over their nationally-ranked foes.
But UMHB answered down the stretch, scoring 23 of the next 33 points. With 10:15 remaining, Kyle Wright came up with a steal, sprinted the length of the court and delivered a pass to Payton Brooks for an open layup, cutting TLU’s lead back to single digits. Less than five minutes later, with 5:40 to play, Josiah Johnson converted on a pair of free throws, regaining the lead for The Cru for the first time since the 2:52 mark of the first half.
“When we had our backs completely up against the wall, all of a sudden, now we’re in the correct stance, we’re making correct rotations, and communicating switches and things like that,” Carroll said.
It led to a back-and-forth final five minutes, which included four lead changes. With 42.3 seconds left, TLU’s Mason Wallace drove to the lane, put up a layup, and received a foul call, as the home crowd erupted in excitement. The foul resulted in a free throw, which he made, and gave TLU a 77-76 advantage.
Johnson tied the score at 77-77 with 32 seconds left on a free throw, of his own, but then came Ardoin’s go-ahead free throw on the other end. UMHB had a chance for a buzzer-beating win, but Johnson’s long, off-balance 3-point try as he raced up the right sideline was off the mark. Payton Brooks rebounded the miss and it appeared he was bumped as he went up for the putback with less than a second left. But no foul was called.
TLU gained the lead early and less than two minutes into the first half, went up 4-0 on a dunk from Easton Allen. TLU’s leading scorer entering the contest, Allen finished with six points, which included a key 3-pointer with 10 minutes remaining in the opening half, and put the Bulldogs back in front, 18-16.
But before that shot from Allen, UMHB took its first lead behind an 8-0 run sparked by Johnson’s 3-pointer three minutes into the first half. After TLU tied it at eight apiece, and then went in front, 10-8, Connor Zamiara tied the score for UMHB. Eight lead changes were seen through the first 20 minutes, as neither team led by more than four points.
With 1:56 left in the half, TLU’s Semaj Edwards came through with a jump-shot that put the Bulldogs up four. 20 seconds later, Brooks sliced that lead to just one, on a 3-pointer that made it 32-31. The teams traded a pair of scores late in the period, with TLU taking a narrow 34-33 lead into the intermission.
At this point early in the season, struggles in executing against any opponent are part of what comes with the roller-coaster ride of a season. With a number of newcomers in contributing roles for the Crusaders this season, there is still a learning process playing out. Carroll noted that postgame, while also adding that he expects better energy from his upperclassmen, players who the rest of the team looks to and who set the tone.
“We have so many new guys this year,” Carroll said. “So when we started practice in October, it was unlike last year where almost everybody knew the system and we just had to work on getting better and making the tweaks. This year, we had to teach the system.
“This week, we were really working on gameplan stuff and the little tweaks in our defense, and now all of a sudden, we can’t get the correct rotations for our base defense. We need to take this time and go back and really make sure everybody knows exactly what we need to do in our base defense, so that when we have to make adjustments, we’re not chasing our tails. We’re also going to rest and get healthy. It’ll be a good nine days for us.”
UMHB has a nine-day break before resuming non-conference play at St. Thomas (TX) in Houston on November 24. UST is also off to a 2-1 start in this 2023-24 season.
UMHB Stat Leaders
Points: Josiah Johnson (22), Eli Beard (15), Payton Brooks, (12)
Rebounds: Josiah Johnson (7), Eli Beard (4), Maurice Pinnock (4)
Assists: Kyle Wright (5), Maurice Pinnock (5), Josiah Johnson (3)