BELTON — What should have been a double-digit victory after a 12-day layoff for Mary Hardin-Baylor turned into a seven-point, tight finish as the Crusaders held off Millsaps College 87-80 on Thursday night in UMHB’s first game of the Cru Holiday Classic at Mayborn Campus Center.
Aubrie King hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final 2 minutes of the contest to help stave off a furious late comeback attempt by Millsaps (3-7), which went on a 25-9 run after Demarius Cress recorded a steal and a layup that put UMHB (8-4) up 78-55 with 5:26 left to play. The Crusaders committed eight fouls over the final 5 minutes and failed to chew time off of the clock, allowing the Majors to chip away at the lead.
“I thought we played in spurts, but we didn’t play well consistently,” UMHB coach Ken DeWeese said. “We made some critically poor substitutions on my part, frankly, and guys weren’t engaged. You try to give guys a chance to play and sometimes they don’t take the opportunity. That’s on me.”
Sam Moore led the Crusaders with 27 points on 11-of-15 shooting and helped the Crusaders expand their 46-37 halftime lead. The redshirt freshman scored 19 points in the second half and was a menace on the defensive end, coming away with three steals that all resulted in fast-break points.
“Coach is always putting an emphasis on how defense leads to offense, so we just had to come out and execute,” Moore said. “In high school, my defense was solid, but it’s something I wanted to improve on at college. I take it personal. If somebody scores on me, I make it to where he won’t do that again.”
The Crusaders’ nine-point lead to start the second half was quickly cut to six after a 3 by Sam Kohnke just 25 seconds after the break. But Moore scored at the free throw line, converted a layup and hit back-to-back jump shots within the opening minutes of the second frame. A steal led to an uncontested dunk for Moore to make the score 64-48. He followed that up by scoring eight of the Crusaders next 12 points on a 3, a layup plus the foul and another dunk.
“(Moore) can have a profound effect on the game. If we can get him engaged on the defensive end of the court all the time, then he can truly be something special,” DeWeese said. “We have to develop him. I don’t want him to become a junior or senior and people ask ‘What happened to Sam?’ We can’t have him drop off. We have to teach him the nuances of the game and he has to be open to learn because he has all the tools.”
Having not played since its 95-93 loss to the University of Texas-Tyler on Dec. 16, UMHB looked sluggish to start the game and quickly fell behind. The Majors opened the contest with a 10-3 run led by Michael Sullivan, who had all 14 of his points before the 8-minute mark of the first half. Shots from beyond the arc kept the Crusaders within striking distance, and Cress made a 3-pointer with 11:30 to go to tie the game at 19. King sank one of his five 3s on UMHB’s following possession to the give Crusaders their first lead of the game, 22-19.
UMHB separated itself from Millsaps from that point on. Cress made a pair of free throws and turned in an acrobatic layup, Brian Long dropped in a fast-break layup off a Millsaps’ turnover and Shaq Martin converted a three-point play the old fashioned way by drawing a foul while sinking a layup to propel a 14-2 UMHB run that established a 33-21 lead with 5 minutes to go before halftime.
“It was two things really: our team defense coming up with steals, loose balls and rebounds and then also we got down the floor on our break,” DeWeese said. “We forced the ball to the basket where we either scored by getting the basket or getting fouled.”
Millsaps committed 16 turnovers with nine of those coming in the first half. The Majors went from shooting 48.5 percent from the field in the first half to 33.3 percent in the second half, and made just four of 27 3-point attempts.
“We’ve had our problem with turnovers all year, but (UMHB) is athletic and long and they play hard on defense,” said Millsaps coach Jimmy Smith, who played at UMHB and was an assistant coach under DeWeese. “(Sullivan) got off to a hot start for us, but he picked up those three fouls in the first half and stayed in foul trouble the rest of the way. We’re not as potent offensively with him off the court.
“It’s cool to come back to the campus and see the changes, and it’s really weird coaching against Coach DeWeese. I’m glad it’s over.”