By Kevin Posival
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON - The Cru's 75-71 loss to McMurry in late January stung and ruined a perfect season.
Still, the Mary Hardin-Baylor's men's basketball team had ambitions of winning the conference tournament.
The War Hawks' 77-69 win over the Cru in an American Southwest Conference tournament semifinal Saturday at the Mayborn Campus Center deflated those hopes.
"It's the worst feeling that I've had all year," said UMHB junior wing Cory Meals. "Right now, it's deflating. We had high hopes to winning this tournament and high hopes of making a deep run in the national tournament. We still have an opportunity to do that, it's just deflating to lose this game."
McMurry (19-8) outscored the Cru 22-10 in the final 7½ minutes, rallying from an 11-point halftime deficit to hand No. 5 UMHB its second loss of the season and advance to the ASC conference tournament championship game.
The War Hawks play Hardin-Simmons (21-6) in the tournament championship today at 2 p.m. for the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III National Tournament. Former Harker Heights standout Matt Addison scored 20 points to lead Hardin-Simmons in its 64-63 win over UT-Dallas in the other semifinal Saturday.
With the loss, the Cru (25-2) hope their resume this season is enough to get them an at-large bid into the national tournament.
"Being No. 1 in the region every week and having only lost two games, you would think would put in there, but that's not necessarily the case," UMHB men's coach Ken DeWeese said. "If I had to give a percentage, I'd say 60-40 that we'd get in, which is pretty good when you're talking about the NCAA committee."
The Cru hit just 8-of-22 from the field in the second half and shot just 42 percent from the floor against the War Hawks' tenacious defense.
Meals' jumper with 7:04 left gave the Cru a 61-55 lead, but they didn't hit from the floor again until Greg Wiernas' layup with 40 seconds left. In between, Jaden Isler scored nine of his game-high 26 points in a 15-5 run that gave the War Hawks a 67-64 lead with 3:28 left.
"I didn't see any bad shots," DeWeese said. "I thought we mishandled it (and) thought we were out of our rhythm. For the first time all year, McMurry out-toughed us. First time that's happened all year, that's just what happened. We just weren't tough enough."
Meals led the Cru with 19 points off the bench and James Allen and Marlon Miller each finished with 11.
Allen scored all of his points in the first half, including five in a 16-4 run that rallied the Cru from an eight-point deficit.
Mary Hardin-Baylor hit just one of its first six shots, turned the ball over four times and trailed 11-3 after the first 4½ minutes.
Damian Davis hit a baseline jumper to spark the Cru's go-ahead run that gave them a 40-29 lead at halftime. Davis finished with eight points, four rebounds, four steals and three assists.
"It just makes us that much hungrier," Davis said of the loss. "Luckily, it's not a playoff game and hopefully the season's not over and we just get back to working hard and try to bring a championship home."