BELTON — Belhaven brought its reckless style of play from Jackson, Miss., to Mayborn Campus Center, where Mary Hardin-Baylor turned the tables and went wild against the Blazers.
Spurred by the long-range marksmanship of junior guard Demarius Cress, UMHB rang up a season-high point total and set a program record for assists in an entertaining 105-85 victory Saturday afternoon.
After dropping three of four games during an eight-day stretch in late November, the Crusaders (11-4, 4-3 American Southwest Conference) have settled into their new free-wheeling style to win seven of their last eight, including four straight.
“I’m letting our guys play differently this year because we have some guys who can,” Crusaders coach Ken DeWeese said. “We can match up with wild if we have to.”
That’s exactly what UMHB had to do against Belhaven (2-10, 1-5), which rarely drains the shot clock below 20 and employs a full-court press.
There were eight ties and 10 lead changes in a first half that ended with the Crusaders up 46-38. With the Blazers still hanging around — down by only four with 12 minutes remaining — UMHB seized control for good with a 26-10 run capped by a series of plays that showed what the Crusaders are capable of when clicking on all cylinders.
Cress drained a 3-pointer from near the midcourt logo, then fed LaKendric Hyson for an alley-oop layup that turned into a three-point play. Sam Moore followed with a breakaway dunk, and Cress buried another logo-land 3. Aubrie King hit a pull-up jumper and a 3 on consecutive possessions, and Moore’s two-handed reverse jam finished the surge and stretched UMHB’s lead to 94-74 with 5:32 to go.
Belhaven never got closer than 18 the rest of the way.
Cress was 7-for-9 from beyond the arc — with all seven coming from within a step of the logo — and finished with a game-high 22 points.
“Every time I catch the ball, I feel like I’m close enough to shoot it. So if there’s enough space, I can let it go,” he said. “But I also have a lot of different weapons around me that we didn’t have a couple years ago, so I can limit myself on which shots I take and get everyone involved more.”
Cress’ final 3 came with 4:51 left and made it 97-77, and Moore’s spinning lay-in followed by his alley-oop dunk on a feed from Brian Long pushed the Crusaders over the 100-point barrier.
Long’s pass for the game’s final dunk was one of 35 assists dished out by UMHB, breaking its previous single-game record of 31 set on Nov. 22, 2003 in a win over Johnson & Wales. Cress and Moore had six assists apiece, and Long and Hyson added five each.
“He’s gotten smarter over the years,” DeWeese said of Cress. “He’s gone from a free-shooting guard to a pretty good point guard, and you don’t see that a lot. He’s made that transition, and I’m proud of him.”
Moore and Hyson finished with 20 points apiece, and Long (10 points, 13 rebounds) and Justin Gammill (14 points, 10 rebounds) recorded double-doubles for UMHB, which shot 55 percent from the field.
Traevian Leatherwood scored a team-high 19 points as one of four double-digit scorers for the Blazers, who came in averaging 27 3-point attempts per game and hoisted 31 on Saturday but made only 10 of them.
UMHB sits third in the ASC West Division standings — a half-game behind Concordia Texas and two back of Sul Ross State — and will try to keep its winning streak alive when it hits the road for games in Abilene against Hardin-Simmons on Thursday and McMurry next Saturday.
“Everybody just wants to win. We’re all on the same page right now,” Cress said. “These past few games were crucial. Coach said we needed to get on a run, and that’s what we’re doing.”