BELTON — Brian Long didn’t get to play during the fall semester as he waited to become eligible after transferring from UTEP. Now the junior forward is making up for lost time, and it showed Thursday night.
Long scored a team-high 19 points, and Mary Hardin-Baylor steadily pulled away from Howard Payne for an 87-70 victory at Mayborn Campus Center.
The win moved the Crusaders (14-5, 7-4 American Southwest Conference) within two games of ASC West Division leader Sul Ross State, which visits Belton on Saturday afternoon, and Long was a key piece of the success.
“I knew my time would come. I had to be patient and trust the system, and everything paid off tonight,” the 6-foot-4 former Killeen standout said. “I feel like I’m back in the mix now.”
Long had nine points before the break, and freshman guard Sam Moore had eight of his 14 points in the final 2½ minutes of the first half, including a dunk and a 3-pointer that beat the halftime buzzer to give UMHB a 48-38 lead.
The Crusaders used the opening 10 minutes of the second half to methodically bury the Yellow Jackets (7-12, 3-8). Long scored 10 points during a 22-8 surge that put UMHB up 70-46 — its largest lead of the night — with 9:26 remaining, and Howard Payne never got closer than 15 the rest of the way.
“We saw some things we thought we could take advantage of by throwing it down there to (Long),” Crusaders coach Ken DeWeese said. “It worked pretty well. It worked because he got the ball in the hole.”
Senior guard Khyce Randall poured in a game-high 30 points, but no one else had more than eight for the Jackets, who shot only 25 percent from the floor after halftime.
Junior forward Shaq Martin had three 3-pointers and added 13 points for UMHB, which was 11-of-22 from beyond the arc and shot 48 percent overall.
The Crusaders have won 10 of their last 12, are tied with Concordia Texas for second place in the West and have three contests on their five-game homestand still remaining — starting with Sul Ross State at 4 p.m. Saturday.
“We’re talking about all of them being important right now. You just have to keep going, keep working and keep playing,” DeWeese said.