Loss sends Mavericks on road
CMU will open RMAC Shootout at CSU-Pueblo
The path to the NCAA Division II South Central Regional tournament won’t be an easy one for the Colorado Mesa men’s basketball team.
After Saturday night’s 69-59 loss to No. 17 Fort Lewis College at Brownson Arena, the Mavericks’ fate was sealed.
Colorado State University-Pueblo’s win Friday night over second-ranked Metro State, then Saturday’s win over Regis, meant the Mavericks had to beat Fort Lewis (19-6, 16-6 RMAC) to earn a first-round home game in the RMAC Shootout and earn some points in the regional rankings.
The Mavericks (17-9, 14-8) lost the tiebreaker against the ThunderWolves for the No. 4 seed and play in Pueblo at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
“They’ve been playing well the last two weeks, and they deserve it,” CMU coach Jim Heaps said. “We don’t.
“We’ve had three straight games and all we needed to do was get a win (to host the first round), and we couldn’t do it. We’ve got nobody to blame but ourselves.”
Early on Saturday, it was a case of too much Alex Herrera, the Skyhawks’ 6-foot-10 sophomore center. At the end, it was too much Marcus Ayala, a 5-11 senior guard.
Herrera scored 11 of his 22 points in the first half points as the Skyhawks built a 33-26 lead, muscling inside, which in turn, opened up the guards outside.
The Mavericks, though, scored the first seven points of the second half to get right back in the game, tying it 33-33.
But Mesa, which has lost three straight games to end the regular season, couldn’t get on a scoring run.
Colton Burgon went inside for a layup and a 37-36 lead, but that was the Mavericks’ first and only lead of the night.
A 3-pointer by Jared Smith put the Skyhawks back up two, and the best the Mavericks could do from there was forge a tie a couple of times.
It was 41-41 when Jeff Hart, who scored 13 points in his final home game, made the second of his back-to-back driving layups, with 11:51 remaining. He was fouled, but missed the free throw, and Ayala answered on the other end for the Skyhawks.
Still the Mavericks had their chances, none bigger than when Mike Melillo blocked a shot with 8:15 to play, and the ball caromed into Daniel Estes’ hands.
The Mavericks’ point guard took off on the break, but he was stripped at midcourt by Mike Matthews, and — who else? — Ayala buried a 3-pointer off the turnover.
“The last seven minutes, Ayala stepped up,” Heaps said. “He hurt us at their place, he hurt us here, and he played great. That’s what seniors do. They step up and play on the road.”
About a minute later, Burgon picked up his fourth foul, and Heaps gambled, leaving his senior post player in the game. The gamble backfired when Burgon picked up his fifth foul 41 seconds later, checking out with eight points in his final home game.
Ayala, who finished with 16 points, scored 11 in the final 6½ minutes.
Melillo led the Mavericks with 15 points and seven rebounds.
Right now, the Mavericks could use a couple of bounces to go their way.
“Every loose ball we’re not getting, every 50-50 ball we don’t get,” Heaps said. “Shots weren’t falling for us tonight. We had some wide-open looks and couldn’t get anything to go.
“We’re just not playing well, and you go through stretches like that, and it can turn around in a hurry.”
Despite entering the tournament on a three-game losing streak, the Mavericks have played well on the road this season.
“We lost our last two games of the season last year going into the tournament (and made it to the title game),” Heaps said. “I told them the bad news is we go on the road. The good news is we’ve done it before and won. We play better on the road. We just execute better.”