BELTON — As the schedule flipped the page into the second month of the season, more and more Mary Hardin-Baylor players have become comfortable in their roles, and that can spell bad news for opponents.
UMHB got 32 points from its bench, and the seventh-ranked Lady Crusaders used a third-quarter surge to pull away from No. 12 Whitman on their way to a 78-58 victory Saturday night at Mayborn Campus Center.
Since a season-opening loss to NAIA member Wayland Baptist, UMHB (5-1) has reeled off five consecutive victories as reserve players and newcomers have begun to understand what’s being asked of them.
“It’s a part of jelling. Players had to learn their roles,” Lady Crusaders coach Mark Morefield said. “To be successful, you have to have a bench. Our bench has been producing for us these last few games.”
Senior guard Ke’Aunna Johnson — a transfer from Rogers State — and sophomore guard A’Lexiss Benton scored 11 points apiece, and sophomore center Kandyce Shepard added eight points and eight rebounds to provide the Lady Crusaders with production from outside their starting five.
“I know what I’m capable of and what I’m good at and what my strengths and weaknesses are. It’s just a matter of being able to adjust to the system and making myself fit in,” said Johnson, who was 4-of-6 from the field and 3-of-3 from the foul line. “My last three years, I was a post player. I didn’t have to drive from outside the 3-point line because I was hardly ever outside even the free throw line my last three years. I’m comfortable out there, though. I know I can drive the ball and find open people. It’s just been a matter of knowing what my teammates are looking for and what Coach is looking for.”
UMHB used a 10-2 run early in the third to turn a seven-point halftime lead into a 13-point advantage, and the Blues (6-1) never got within single digits again.
Makana Stone had a double-double with a game-high 22 points and 10 rebounds for Whitman, but no other Blues player had more than six points.
Senior guard Hannah Holt scored a team-high 20 points, and sophomore center Allaira Jones had 10 for the Lady Crusaders, who shot 46 percent (30-of-66) from the field and outrebounded the Blues 42-31.
“It’s a good quality win, especially being an out-of-region win,” said Morefield, whose team hosts Texas Wesleyan on Thursday night. “That’s the kind of team you’re going to see if you’re lucky enough to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Playing quality competition like that helps us set the tone.”