Mavericks top Metro in Denver
DENVER — Colorado Mesa University assistant men’s basketball coach Michael Dominguez turned to Mike Melillo during a timeout in overtime Tuesday night and asked him if he was a big-time player.
Melillo’s answer: “Huge.”
He was huge, all right.
The Colorado Mesa University redshirt freshman anticipated a pass with 47 seconds left in OT, made the steal and took it the length of the court for a layup.
The final two of his career-high 21 points gave the Mavericks the lead for good in their 67-63 victory over No. 12 Metro State in the first round of the RMAC Shootout at the Auraria Events Center.
“That was just him making a play,” CMU coach Jim Heaps said. “That’s flat-out him. I didn’t tell him to do it, but that’s what we needed. Mike’s been in position to make plays throughout the year. This was a great example of him making a play.”
The win was Mesa’s first RMAC tournament victory since the Mavericks defeated Fort Hays State (Kan.) 84-71 in the 2004-05 season. Mesa reached the RMAC final that season, losing to Metro State.
Colorado Mesa (15-12) plays Fort Lewis in the semifinals at 5:30 p.m. on Friday in Pueblo. The Skyhawks upset Adams State 77-73 in overtime in Alamosa.
The Mavericks, seeded seventh in the tournament, upset the No. 2 seed despite turning the ball over 25 times.
“We talked about our season starting right now,” Heaps said. “I think our kids feel like we shouldn’t be 14-12. We should be better than that.
“Sometimes you’ve got to get wins when you’re not playing at your best. I think tonight was great example of a gutty performance. We couldn’t rebound with them, we turned it over too much, but we guarded really well and gave us a chance.”
Mesa limited Metro (22-6) to 29.8 percent shooting, including 11.1 percent in overtime.
“It wasn’t going our way,” Melillo said. “You can back down when you make so many turnovers. We came together at halftime and decided we were going to take care of the ball. Defense is always going to win you games, so we focused on that part.”
Jeff Hart scored 12 points for the Mavericks and Michael Bear and Colton Burgon scored 10 each. Reggie Evans led Metro State with 16 points.
Metro State built an early 13-6 lead, but the Mavs stayed in the game in the first half with solid defense.
Mesa had a 33-31 lead after two Shawn King free throws and had the ball with less than 30 seconds left, but turned the ball over a 12th time, leading to a Metro basket just before the buzzer.
The teams exchanged leads five times in the first 12 minutes of the second half and were tied six times in the second half.
With the score tied 50-50, both teams struggled to hit shots. Both teams were stuck at 50 for three minutes until Colton Burgon made a layup with 4:09 left.
Metro’s defense keyed in on Burgon, who dished off to Bear for a bucket and a 58-56 lead.
Metro tied the game, and then took the lead on its next possession, but Mesa had 25.9 seconds left to score.
The Mavs went back to Burgon, who posted up Metro’s Jonathan Morse, spun and scored.
Metro had one look with five seconds left, but Evans missed.
The Roadrunners’ Brandon Jefferson drove to the basket, scored, was fouled and hit a free throw to open overtime.
Metro didn’t score again.
Burgon got the Mavericks going in overtime with a layup and was fouled, but he missed the free throw.
Two possessions later, Melillo scored on his steal for a 64-63 lead. The Mavericks were fouled on their next two possessions and hit 3 of 4 free throws to seal the victory.
“It’s win or go home,” Heaps said. “For us, it’s do or die. We were fortunate to get out of here with a win.”