BELTON — Using frenetic defensive activity to clog passing lanes and quickly pushing the ball up the floor at every opportunity, Mary Hardin-Baylor pressed the issue on both ends of the court against an inexperienced McMurry team that couldn’t keep pace.
The end result was a fourth straight win for the Lady Crusaders, who remain atop the American Southwest Conference West Division heading into the midway mark of the league schedule.
UMHB grabbed 18 steals and scored 22 fast-break points, outrunning McMurry from start to finish during a 72-49 victory in which the 17th-ranked Lady Crusaders never trailed Saturday afternoon at Mayborn Campus Center.
“Coach told us to get (McMurry) out in transition because we’re really athletic,” said senior guard Hannah Holt, who had a game-high 16 points. “If we would actually run all the time, we could have 20 transition points every night. Sometimes, for some reason, we just settle for running a play.”
UMHB (13-3, 6-1) broke a 4-all tie only 2 minutes in to go on top for good, and the War Hawks (9-6, 2-5) never mounted a surge.
Holt scored eight of her points in the first quarter, which ended with the Lady Crusaders ahead 14-9, and the second period was all UMHB as the gap widened. Five points from Allaira Jones fueled a 9-0 surge that padded the Lady Crusaders’ cushion to double digits, and UMHB ended the first half on a 13-4 run to take a 38-19 lead into the break.
The third quarter was when the Lady Crusaders put their transition game into high gear, scoring 11 points on fast breaks as they pushed their advantage to 27 points — the largest of the afternoon — and wore down a War Hawks squad with 13 freshmen on its roster.
“I thought we were pretty good in transition,” said UMHB coach Mark Morefield, whose team got six steals from sophomore guard Bethany McLeod. “We wanted to push the ball more today and kind of wear McMurry’s legs out.”
Cassidy Melton had 13 points and was the only double-digit scorer for McMurry, which finished with 25 turnovers.
Jones added 13 points for the Lady Crusaders, who were 20-of-36 (56 percent) from the floor over the middle two quarters and shot 44 percent overall.
The only negative aspect of the game for UMHB came with 45 seconds left in the third, when Kendall Rollins injured her left ankle and limped off the floor. The senior guard, who missed five games earlier this season with an injury to her right ankle, finished the game on the bench with an ice bag on her foot.
“We’re not real sure about it yet,” Morefield said. “It didn’t swell up immediately, so hopefully she just tweaked it.”
Rollins will have a week to heal before the Lady Crusaders play again next Saturday at Concordia Texas in the first of seven road games over the final nine-game stretch to finish the regular season.
Morefield wants his team to use the closing run to begin peaking at the right time heading into the conference tournament and what the Lady Crusaders hope is another deep push in the NCAA Division III Tournament.
“Last year, we got off to a 14-0 start and were 20-1 at one point,” said Morefield, who guided UMHB to the Sweet 16 last season. “We’ve had a little more adversity this year, and that’s not a bad thing. It grabs your players’ attention and makes them focus a little more.”