RICHARDSON, Texas – It had been 10 years between American Southwest Conference titles for McMurry University but Sunday, first-year head coach Matt Garnett and McMurry took a 72-65 victory over Mary Hardin-Baylor in the title game at the UTD Activity Center Sunday.
Both teams were playing their third games in a 72-hour period and Garnett said that the victory was one for McMurry because of will.
"We knew it was going to come down to a battle of wills who was going to be able to dig in and find a way to make a play," said Garnett. "We were able to dig in and you could see a look in our guys eyes, and I thought they give themselves a chance. You have to have some things go your way, but I thought they had a real strong will to make something happen down the stretch."
In a game that changed leads 10 times and saw the score tied seven times, the final push for McMurry came in the final 6:59 after UMHB had taken a 58-53 advantage on a layup by Brian Todd. However, McMurry fought back and re-gained the lead at 61-60 when Jaden Isler hit a floater with 4:42 remaining. Robert Moore hit two free throws for UMHB on the ensuing possession and the Crusaders took the lead back 62-61 with 4:17 left.
However, then the ASC Tournament MVP Derick Sumpter hit a 3-pointer to give McMurry the lead for good with 4:09 remaining at 64-62. Beginning with the trey, McMurry closed the game on a 11-3 run.
Sumpter finished with 24 points and hit four 3-pointers; he averaged 20 points for the tournament to garner Player of the Tournament honors. He hit four of McMurry's six 3-pointers, but Garnett attributed the defensive effort and the battle inside to the victory.
"In such a physical contest you're going to have to score inside, you can't rely on hitting jump shots all night. I thought we did a good job of running our sets and being patient offensively," said Garnett. "All of them one by one stepped up in key moments and that's what you're going to have. You're going to have guys on the bench step up when the time's right; I'm real proud of all of them."
McMurry edged the Crusaders scoring in the paint 32-26 and took the rebounding battle 36-34. Steven Jones scored 19 points and grabbed eight borads while Teddy Chambers had nine points and eight boards. Jaden Isler's 15 points were also key and he had a tournament-high eight assists in the game.
McMurry shot 61 percent in the second half and outscored UMHB 39-29 while limiting the Crusaders to just a 35 percent shooting effort for the game. The Crusdaers hit only 11 of 35 shots in the second half and made just 1 of 13 3-point attempts in the second half.
Isler hit 6 of 6 free-throw shots and was 20 of 22 from the line in the tournament while the team hit 54 of 64 free-throw attempts in the combined three rounds.
McMurry last won the title Feb. 24, 2001 in Clinton, Miss. over Mississippi College, and its last championship game appearance was in 2003. McMurry advanced all the way to the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2001 in its last tournament run.
Garnett in his first year, saw McMurry improve to 21-7 on the year, and won the ASC West Division title and the ASC Tournament championship in his first year. As just the third head coach in 52 seasons, Garnett said he's still well aware of the previous efforts by his predecessors Hershel Kimbrell (1959-1990) and Ron Holmes (1990-2010).
"You want to make sure that you put a team on the court that represents McMurry well. I think our guys understood that there were guys that had paved the way before them that we needed to go out and represent them and bring them onto the court with us," he said. "To get to do it in the first year, I'm really proud of that team because we needed to do that because of what Coach Holmes and Coach Kimbrell have done and I couldn't be prouder of being able to honor them."
McMurry will find out where the NCAA will ship them for the first round of the tournament, which could begin as early as Thursday. The announcement will take play Monday at 11 a.m., and UMHB (21-7) and UT-Dallas (21-6) will await word as to whether either team will get in with an at-large bid.
Derick Sumpter, McMurry (Most Valuable Player)
Brandon Greene, Texas-Dallas
Jaden Isler, McMurry
Derrick Jefferson, Hardin-Simmons
Steven Jones, McMurry
Marlon Miller, Mary Hardin-Baylor
Dean Pele, Mary Hardin-Baylor