Mesa slips past UCCS to win back-to-back games
The coaches were quick to point it out: Two wins in a row is just that, two in a row. You’ve gotta win three to call it a winning streak.
Still, though, for the Colorado Mesa men’s basketball team, sweeping the weekend is a big step, and they’ll gladly take back-to-back wins, streak or no streak.
“We’ve been through it all, all the adversity,” guard CJ Davis said. “No one feels bad for you and once everyone understood that it’s let’s just play basketball.”
Mesa’s gritty bunch again never let the opponent dictate the pace of the game Saturday night. Even though CU-Colorado Springs at times scored at will in transition, clutch shots and even bigger defensive plays carried the Mavericks (5-14, 4-9 RMAC) to an 80-75 victory in front of the largest home crowd of the season, 1,208.
Other than the Mountain Lions’ 6-foot-10 center, Ian MacDonald, Mesa matched up size-wise, and Connor Nichols, despite giving up a few inches and several pounds, helped hold him to only four points.
“Connor’s always going to play hard,” CMU coach Andy Shantz said. “He always really competes. He’s going to give up some size and some pounds, he’s playing out of position, but the kid’s extremely competitive and any time you have an extremely competitive kid, he’s fun to coach.”
Several times in the second half the Mavericks saw UCCS cut the lead to one or two points, but every time, they had an answer.
Five minutes into the second half it was a one-point game, but Davis hit a 3 and Ludde Saldh a pretty baseline turn-around jumper.
He missed the bonus free throw, but Mesa got possession when the rebound bounced off a UCCS player. Saldh missed an jumper on the inbounds play, but Tanner Riley snared the offensive rebound and Brandon Hoffer buried a crowd-pleasing 3-pointer from the corner to put Mesa up nine.
After a 3 by UCCS, Davis lined up for a 3-pointer and was fouled by Brandon Malone. The three-shot foul became a five-shot foul when Malone drew a technical, and Davis made four of five to push the lead to 56-46.
Eimer Lopez, who led the Mavericks with 20 points, scored on a couple of drives and Riley hit a deep 3 to give Mesa a 65-50 advantage midway through the half. UCCS (7-11, 6-7) scored 12 straight points to cut the lead 65-62 with six minutes left.
A driving reverse layup by Lopez was followed by Nichols blocking MacDonald’s shot on the other end.
It was tied 73-73 with two minutes remaining, and like Friday night, the Mavericks could have folded.
Instead, they found one more surge.
Davis, who finished with 16 points, had a drive blocked, but after UCCS missed on the other end, he drained a 3 from the top of the key with one minute to play, putting CMU up three.
He then made a lunging steal and was fouled with 45 seconds remaining.
“I just saw him kind of put the ball in front of me so I jumped on it,” Davis said. “It was a good read and kind of a gutsy play, but it worked out.”
His two free throws seemingly put the game out of reach, 78-73, but Elijah Ross drove down the middle of the lane for a layup.
After a timeout, Mesa got the ball low to Kabir West, whose first shot came up short of the rim, but bounced right back into his hands.
“I tried to create space and put it to the glass but it didn’t go in and I still had ground to cover, so I just pogo’d right back up and got it,” West said. “I’m gonna put this ball in the basket, that ball is going in. I was trying to get an and-one or something, but I was going to go as hard as I could and it went in.”
The Mavs still have a long way to go to get in position for a spot in the RMAC playoffs, but unlike a few weeks ago, they’re a group that’s playing with confidence.
“I think we realize now we’re not out of it,” Davis said. “This weekend is what we needed. ... We’re a different team than we were a month and a half ago.”