Putting up a Fite: Mesa State forward not afraid to draw charges

Photo by William Woody— Mesa State junior forward Lance Fite puts up a shot over CSU-Pueblo’s Chris Busch during the Mavs’ win Friday, which clinched the RMAC regular-season title. Fite doesn’t mind taking a charge to benefit the team, which opens the RMAC Shootout at 7 p.m Tuesday night in a rematch against CSU-Pueblo at Brownson Arena.



First round: CSU-Pueblo (16-10) at Mesa State (22-4), 7 tonight, Brownson Arena

Tickets: $8 reserved (call 248-1879 by noon today); $6 adult general admission; $3 student general admission: Free for children (6-under). GA tickets on sale at door only; doors open at 5:30 p.m.

On the air: Radio: 1230-AM (KEXO). Internet audio: mesamavs.com; go to the “media center” link. Streaming video: Available through B2 as a single-game purchase; go to the “media center” link at mesamavs.com.

This season: Mesa State 78, CSU-Pueblo 64 (Jan. 23, Pueblo); Mesa State 80, CSU-Pueblo 71 (Feb. 26, Brownson Arena)

Series: Mesa State leads 40-28

Notes: The Mavericks have lost in the first round of the RMAC Shootout each of the past four seasons. The last time the Mavs got out of the first round (2005), they reached the championship game, losing to Metro State 66-57. ... Mesa State hasn’t been the No. 1 seed in the tournament since 1999, when it won the regular-season RMAC title. Metro State defeated the Mavs for the tournament championship. ... Mesa’s never won the Shootout, but owns 10 conference championships, including this season. ... Mesa is two wins from tying the school record for wins in a season (24, 1988-89) and will set the record for fewest losses in a season. The most games Mesa can lose is six; the record for fewest is seven. The Mavs tied the school record for most conference wins (16, four times). ... CSU-Pueblo coach Patrick Eberhart is 3-7 against Mesa State; Jim Heaps is 26-4 against the ThunderWolves as a head coach. Heaps is four wins away from reaching 250 at Mesa State. ... Mesa is 11-0 at home this season, the T-Wolves are 7-6 on the road. ... Tonight’s winner plays in the tournament semifinals Friday at the Colorado State Fair Events Center in Pueblo. If the Mavs win, they play at 1 p.m. against the lowest-seeded team remaining in the East Division. ... The RMAC Shootout champion receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Central Region tournament March 13-16.

Computer programs track just about every sports statistic imaginable.

In basketball alone, there are categories for points scored in the paint, points off turnovers, bench points, assist-to-turnover ratio ... everything except one category that’s near and dear to a coach’s heart:

Charges taken.

You’d have to have someone breaking down game film to count just how many charges the Mesa State College men’s basketball team has taken this season.

The Mavs practice how to take a charge, know they’re expected to take a charge, and they’re willing participants.

By rough count, Lance Fite has taken 15 to 20 charges in the past six games.

“It’s not like I’m gonna jump up and block a dunk, so I might as well take them,” the 6-foot-7 junior forward said with a laugh after getting slammed to the floor a handful of times against CSU-Pueblo last Friday night in the game that clinched the Mavericks’ RMAC championship.

Mesa State (22-4) opens the RMAC Shootout at 7 tonight at Brownson Arena against the CSU-Pueblo (16-10), the team that upset the Mavs a year ago and helped prevent them from reaching the regional playoffs.

Mesa State is all but assured a spot in the national tournament, but can make a case to be the No. 1 seed and host the Central Regional tournament if it wins the RMAC Shootout.

Only a few weeks ago, when play against the RMAC West Division began, Fite fell into a slump on both ends of the floor. His point production went down, his rebounding went down, his turnovers went up. Fite was a victim of basketball’s Catch-22.

“You have to have confidence to play well, and you have to play well to have confidence,” Heaps said.

Fite, who transferred from Glendale (Ariz.) Community College, was trying to figure out his role. He wanted so badly to contribute and was playing a step too fast.

“He’d pass when he should shoot and he’d shoot when he should pass,” Heaps said. “You could tell he was not comfortable. It takes some of those kids awhile to make that adjustment to a different program.”

He averaged 8.3 points and 2.8 rebounds through the first 14 games, but over the next eight, scored only 4.3 points and had 1.3 rebounds a night.

Heaps tells his players if they’re in a scoring slump, find another reason to stay on the floor.

Fite found it on defense.

“Scoring is such a small part of the game and it gets so much more emphasis than it should,” Heaps said. “If you’ll defend, if you’ll rebound and don’t turn it over and do nothing but take good shots, even if you score two points, then you’re going to be a valuable person on the floor.”

Shorter than most post players in the conference, and not a big leaper, Fite uses his strength and tenacity to rebound. And he’s not afraid to step in front of a hard-charging opponent.

Coaches insist Fite is camping under the cylinder, an area this season that is an automatic block call.

“He’s not,” Heaps said. “That’s not where he’s taking it.”

It’s when he lands on his keister, though, and an official puts his hand behind his head and points the other way, signalling the charge, that Fite smiles and nods his head as he’s helped to his feet by his teammates.

Fite took a charge with 17 seconds left Saturday that helped seal the victory over New Mexico Highlands.

“That’s a technique and that takes guts to every week step in and take those charges,” Heaps said.

The Mavs once again have a post player who’s confident in his game. In the past four games, he’s averaged 13.7 points and 6.2 rebounds. And 3-5 charges.

“This late in the year, we need a confident me, we need a confident everybody,” Fite said. “If we play like we have the last couple of games, it’s easy to find confidence. They’ll look for you, they’ll tell you, ‘We’ll get you the ball and if not, get a rebound.’

“I was kind of getting out of my element, thinking I had to do too much. For awhile, they didn’t need me to score, they needed me to rebound, to pass to cutters, to take charges, and I’m fine with doing that.

“Me giving the ball to someone else is the same amount of points as if I scored.”


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