BELTON — In its only contest at home during a brutal seven-game stretch — and in dire need of a win — Mary Hardin-Baylor didn’t make every play but made the right ones to keep from going off the deep end early in the conference schedule.
UMHB opened the second half with a 13-0 run to gain some separation and held off East Texas Baptist’s long-range flurry down the stretch to produce a 75-69 victory Wednesday night at Mayborn Campus Center.
The win came on the heels of consecutive losses — both on the road — for the Crusaders (9-5, 2-3 American Southwest Conference), who play their next four games away from home.
“This was big-time because we were 1-3 in the conference. We needed to come out here and prove ourselves to the rest of the teams,” said senior post Austen Stolte, who had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. “We need to keep turning it up now.”
After having its eight-point lead whittled to 30-27 by halftime, UMHB turned it up coming out of the break. Stolte’s driving bucket and Ryan Lang’s 3-pointer kick-started the Crusaders’ 13-0 surge that continued with 3s by Aubrie King and Braden Hammond, and was capped by Demarius Cress’ runner in the lane that extended UMHB’s advantage to 43-27 and forced the Tigers (10-4, 3-4) to call a timeout only 2½ into the second half.
“We told them that it’s a long game and we just need to play every possession,” said first-year ETBU coach Brandon Curran, whose team had its six-game winning streak snapped. “Score, get a stop, score, get a stop. Do that over and over again, and you’ll give yourself a chance. And I thought we did that.
“Overall, Mary Hardin-Baylor just played really well, and we had a hard time hitting shots. We were getting some good shots, we just didn’t hit enough of them.”
The Tigers cut the gap to seven points with 13:10 remaining, but the Crusaders had pulled away to a 69-57 lead with 2 minutes to go. ETBU’s biggest threat didn’t come until the last half-minute, when it made three 3s in a 20-second span — including Jordan Gray’s rainbow that banked in off the glass — to put a dent in the final margin.
Tyler Day scored 15 points for the Tigers, who were 10-of-30 from long range and shot 36 percent overall. Jordan Gosey added 14 points, and Gray finished with 12.
Hammond continued his string of production for the Crusaders, hitting four 3s and totaling 22 points to push his season average to 16.9 points per game.
“I definitely put in the work during the summer,” said Hammond, a junior guard out of Belton who began to find his game late last season. “I put up a lot of shots and did a lot of work in the weight room. I feel confidence in myself when I shoot the ball.”
Cress had 14 points, and King and Daniels Mills added 12 apiece for UMHB, which shot 40 percent from beyond the arc and 43 percent overall.
“The schedule is really difficult at this point,” said Crusaders coach Ken DeWeese, whose squad had won six straight before dropping back-to-back games on the road. “This was one that we had to play good in. Did we play great? No. But we played tough and played hard.”
Things don’t get any easier over the next 10 days for UMHB, which plays at Concordia Texas on Saturday and at Texas-Dallas on Monday before wrapping up its road stretch with games in Brownwood against Howard Payne next Thursday and in Alpine against Sul Ross State on Jan. 21.
The Crusaders, though, believe they’re ready for what lies ahead.
“You have to love it or else it’s just going to eat you up,” Hammond said. “If you don’t come out and be ready to play every night, then you’re not going to win. We have to be ready to play regardless of the circumstances and deal with any adversity and handle it well.”