BELTON — At halftime, it looked as if the Crusaders could face a second straight loss. But who remembers halftime scores?

Trailing 32-31 at the break, Mary Hardin-Baylor forced five turnovers and scored 13 unanswered points in the first 3:12 of the second half and finally put Howard Payne away late in the 10th-ranked Cru’s 83-62 win Thursday at the Mayborn Campus Center.

“Nobody remembers the halftime score, so we got the (final) score we wanted, but we were hoping we would get through that first half a little bit more efficiently,” Cru coach Ken DeWeese said.

Despite its second-half jump start, UMHB (17-1, 13-1) needed a 19-2 run midway through the half to completely shut the door on Brandon Irwin, Howard Payne and the Cru’s first loss of the season to McMurry on Saturday.

“I was looking for a spark, enthusiasm and instead I saw a little bit of reluctance, trying to keep from making mistakes,” DeWeese said. “I think it was just a little confidence thing, which that’s just this time of year. That’s what people go through. We’re no different than anybody else. It’s just in late-January, February teams go through that.”

Irwin scored eight of his game-high 23 points in a 3-minute stretch, helping Howard Payne (8-10, 6-8 ASC) cut a 12-point Cru lead to 50-48 with 10:39 left on the senior guard’s fourth of four 3-pointers in the game.

Marlon Miller scored 14 of his team-high 20 points in the second half, including the first two points of the Cru’s separating run on a transition layup with 9:51 left. 

“It’s really the passion of not wanting to lose, really,” Miller said of the spark DeWeese was looking for. “We’re not our record, but at the same time, we just don’t want to lose (another) game. Like at the end of the season, if we’re 24-1 or whatever it is, nobody’s going to remember this game, they’re just going to remember we won the conference and we lost one game.”

After Bryan Adams hit a jumper and a pair of free throws for Howard Payne, the Cru’s lead was 55-52 with 10:39 left. But beginning with Miller’s layup, UMHB scored seven unanswered points before a Gabriel Garza putback.

The Yellow Jackets, though, went another 4:09 without scoring as the Cru built a 20-point lead.

“It started on defense,” said Cru senior guard Sterling Phillips, who had nine points off the bench. “We got in passing lanes, we started creating some breaks, we got in transition and we scored. ... Tonight our defense translated into our offense and we got a big win.”

Greg Wiernas had 14 rebounds to go along with his 10 points and James Allen scored 13 points with three steals. Kitrick Bell finished with 12 points.

Irwin hit four 3-pointers and scored eight of his 13 first-half points in a big 16-6 run by the Yellow Jackets to take their 32-31 lead into the break. He hit two free throws and a 3-pointer in a 15-second span and cut the Cru’s one-time eight point lead to two on a 3-point play with 8:08 left in the first half.

After Irwin’s spark cut the Cru’s lead to two, Damian Davis stretched it back to four on a 3-point play opportunity, but Davis missed the free throw and Mary Hardin-Baylor went the final 6:19 of the first half without a field goal. So in the second half, the Cru returned to its defensive focus.

“Every team’s going to go through their ups and downs and we’ve just got to stay strong, stay focussed and be ready to hit that stride,” Phillips said. “I feel like, in the beginning of the last three games, we came out a little slow, a little lethargic. Today, in the second half, we finally came out, hit that stride — it started on defense, and we finally started to click like we usually have been.”

Howard Payne women 76, Mary Hardin-Baylor 55 — At Belton, Roshonda Gayden scored 14 points, Dana Marrs added 13 and 11 other Yellow Jackets players contributed points in the rout of the Cru women.

Howard Payne (16-2, 11-2 American Southwest Conference) used a 14-2 run to close the first half to quell any notions of an UMHB upset and then held the Cru to 11 points in the second half to win its 13th straight game.

Jovana Miles had 12 points and seven rebounds to lead the Cru women (2-16, 1-13 ASC), who lost third straight since snapping an 11-game losing streak less than two weeks ago.

Carmen Maciel and Miranda Shorter each scored 11 for Mary Hardin-Baylor, which hit just 32.3 percent from the floor and less than 19 percent from beyond the 3-point line.


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