Off the mark
Mavs can't get shots to fall in loss to Roadrunners
Ryan Stephan isn’t being selfish when he says he needs to touch the basketball more. He knows the more he draws the defense, the more open his teammates become.
He certainly drew a crowd Saturday night, with Metro State collapsing its zone around the 6-foot-11 senior center for the Colorado Mesa men’s basketball team.
But the more the zone collapsed, the more the Mavericks struggled to hit open shots, because the Roadrunners were quick to recover in their 76-69 victory at Brownson Arena.
“Hats off to Coach (Derrick) Clark, he does a great job on me every time we play them,” said Stephan, who finished with a season-low 12 points, 10 from the free-throw line. “They packed that zone and we’ve got to do a better job seeing the diagonal pass. I’m barking at the guys trying to get them to realize it.
“It’ll come with time, it’s a hard pass to make. Bottom line, I’ve got to get the ball in my hands because I draw doubles and so much attention, I get guys open.”
The Mavericks (4-5, 0-3 RMAC) were also playing with a new starting lineup after sophomore point guard Derek Biale was dismissed from the team earlier in the day.
“He just hasn’t been able to fulfill what we need from him to be part of this program,” CMU coach Andy Shantz said after the game.
“It’s been something we’ve worked with him, tried to work with him for a long time and it just got to a situation where it was pretty obvious he wasn’t going to be able to fulfill the requirements that we have to be a part of our program and unfortunately we had to dismiss him.”
Freshman Brandon Hoffer started, and when he needed a break, Eimer Lopez, the Mavs’ starting small forward, took over ball-handling duties.
“He handles the ball so well, and you saw that tonight,” Shantz said of Lopez, a 6-foot-4 junior. “He got us several times across half court (against Metro’s press) and got us into our offense. Late he was really pushing and finishing at the basket. It’s next man up.”
Lopez finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Hoffer had 10 points, three assists and only one turnover, playing 37 minutes.
Mesa didn’t have trouble against Metro’s pressure, but it was a case of first-half shots not falling, and Metro (4-5, 2-1) hitting on all cylinders, especially from the perimeter.
The Roadrunners hit 10 of 20 from the 3-point line. Mesa was only 2 of 14.
“We’re struggling a little bit from the perimeter and we’re a little snakebit right now,” Shantz said.
And because the perimeter shots aren’t falling, teams can pack it in around Stephan.
Stephan picked up a couple of first-half fouls that had him on the bench for all but eight minutes. At one point, Shantz went to a small lineup, with Lopez playing inside with Kane Gunther, Hoffer, Tanner Riley and Connor Nichols.
That group brought the Mavericks back from an early deficit, taking a five-point lead, 27-22, with 3:33 to play.
Metro tied the game in the final two minutes and took a 30-27 halftime lead when Jourdon Hunter hit a 3-pointer.
Several times, especially in the second half, the Mavericks had Metro taking contested shots late in the shot clock, but the Roadrunners just kept knocking them down.
“We forced them into shots we wanted them to take and they ended up hitting them,” Stephan said.
Tied at 37-37 with the Mavericks starting to gain the momentum, Riley was fouled on a drive to the basket. After a hesitation on the call, the officials called a block against Andre Harris, his fifth, but Riley missed both free throws.
As the teams were running to the other end of the floor, Riley was called for a technical when he cursed himself loudly enough for the officials to hear.
Hunter made both free throws on the technical, and on the ensuing possession, Enrique Cortes Zotes hit a 3, then scored on a drive for a 44-37 lead.
“I thought we played pretty well for long stretches and obviously I felt that technical foul changed momentum,” Shantz said. “It was an unfortunate thing, but we just couldn’t hit enough shots.”
Stephan said he’s confident the Mavericks will all get on the same page as the season progresses, but starting 0-3 in conference isn’t what they envisioned.
“I’m disappointed in the weekend,” he said. “Not in the team, in the results. It’s just a bummer.”