BELTON — In a game played in fits that featured outbursts from both sides, Mary Hardin-Baylor made a living Saturday afternoon at the free-throw line — the same place that cost the Crusaders dearly in the past.
UMHB attempted a whopping 51 free throws and made 41 of them, overcoming its foul-line demons and Mississippi College in a 78-70 victory at Mayborn Campus Center.
“If they foul, you just have to go to the line and knock it down,” Crusaders junior wing Jerard Graham said. “Today was probably our best free-throw shooting day that we’ve had.”
That’s an understatement.
The Crusaders (11-8, 9-7 American Southwest) shot 46 percent from the line in a loss earlier this season and only 39 percent in another, but they connected on 80 percent of their attempts Saturday in a game that featured four technical fouls and little flow as the teams never got a handle on the officiating crew’s style.
“We talked at halftime that you have to be careful what you do because you never know what they’re going to call next,” UMHB coach Ken DeWeese said. “There was no way to say, ‘OK. You can’t do this,’ because sometimes you could and sometimes you couldn’t.
“There was no way to adjust to anything. One time there would be a hand on somebody and they’d call it. The next time there would be two hands on somebody and no whistle. There was no consistency.”
The Choctaws (7-11, 5-10) went 16-of-21 from the stripe, were accessed three technicals — including one on coach Don Lofton — and fell to 1-8 on the road this season.
“You just have to keep attacking,” said Graham, who was 5-of-6 at the line and had 19 points. “Sometimes they’ll call it your way and sometimes the other way, but you just have to keep attacking.”
That plan worked well for all of the Crusaders. Senior guard James Allen was 10-of-12 from the line as part of his 22 points and senior forward Kitrick Bell went 7-of-11 for some of his 11 points.
“When the game’s being called like that, you just have to go to the basket,” DeWeese said. “We decided to get the ball to Kitrick, and I told him, ‘Just go to the basket because you’ll go to the free throw line.’ And he did.”
After MC scored the game’s first five points, UMHB used a 13-3 run to grab the lead and trailed for a total of only 50 seconds the rest of the way despite making only 15 field goals in a 35 percent shooting performance from the floor.
Jay Case had 15 points, Emmanuel Ezejiofo and Jaron Edwards 13 apiece and Kelvin Smith 10 for the Choctaws, who shot 42 percent from the field.
Almost lost amid the myriad whistles, stops and starts of Saturday afternoon’s affair was the fact that the Crusaders picked up their third win in the last four games and moved into a tie for fifth place in the league standings.
They will try to keep their momentum going with home games next week against LeTourneau on Thursday and East Texas Baptist on Saturday.
“It’s about intensity and effort and staying aggressive,” Graham said. “We have to have our mind on our business at the start of the game and stay focused for the whole thing.”