Groundhog weekend started successfully for the University of Dallas men’s basketball team on Friday night at 5:30 p.m.. The Crusaders earned an essential conference victory over a struggling squad in Johnson & Wales University-Denver at home.
Starting strong was essential to UD’s success on Friday as they established a 10-0 lead after the first five minutes of play. Wildcat Kaleb Atherley responded with a quick four points to put Johnson & Wales on the board, but their offensive struggles continued throughout the first half, resulting in an 18-10 Crusader lead with 6:32 left on the clock. Trading blows for the rest of the period, the Crusaders entered halftime with a commanding score of 33-21 following a last-second layup made by freshman Jacob Giunta.
After the break, Dallas capitalized on their lead by getting to the foul line with aggressive drives from junior Dustin Mathis, who made seven of his nine free throws on the day. However, a series of Dallas turnovers led to a 7-0 run by Johnson & Wales, keeping them alive as they brought the match to a five-point, 58-53 game with 8:52 remaining.
Struggling to maintain a lead and play a complete game has been something the squad has battled with over the season, according to injured junior Philip Ashton III. When asked about what the team needs to improve upon, he responded:
“Decision making. We have yet to put together a full 40 minutes, and once we do we’ll be a very scary team to go up against.”
With under five minutes on the clock, the Crusaders focused on using up the clock, often putting the ball in the hands of senior Isaiah Hayes. After rebounding the ball, Hayes drew a foul and made both free throws, granting Dallas a 68-59 lead with 4:25 to go. Any thought of a comeback was quickly squashed with a critical three-pointer made by Mathis with four minutes to go. He led the Crusaders in scoring on Friday with 20 points. A clean finish and a lay-up by sophomore Cameran Hyde would see UD win the game with a final score of 78-66.
“[This was] a good team win that was [made] by communication on defense and us playing as a team–not as individuals, but one unit,” said Hyde.
With the defeat, Johnson & Wales’ Wildcats failed to end a disastrous streak of losses, falling to 0-10 over their last ten games. The Crusaders advanced to a 9-8 overall record and improved their conference record to 5-5, providing a much-needed boost for the team after two disappointing losses against Austin University.
After finishing last season with a disappointing 6-10 conference record, the UD men’s basketball team has reason to be optimistic this season — especially considering that this victory came without the help of sophomore Jai Love and junior Michael Wambsganss.
The Crusaders’ next challenge was at home on Groundhog day at 4 p.m, where they faced off against a Colorado College team that will be looking to avenge a 72-64 conference defeat that occurred a month prior. The Crusaders took home a win with a final score of 67-64.
Next week, the team will travel to Trinity University, where Dallas will seek to repeat the events of the last time the two teams met, which ended in an overtime victory for Dallas.