Focused Mavs race past Regis

A couple of constants in the Colorado Mesa University men’s basketball program: You must play hard both nights of the conference weekends and remember, the game after the big game is the big game.

The Mavericks took that to heart Saturday, making quick work of Regis University, 77-45, the night after losing to top-ranked Metro State.

In the afternoon shoot-around and before the game, CMU coach Jim Heaps wasn’t sure how to read his team, which was unusually quiet.

“I was a little worried about it going in,” Heaps said. “We were really quiet in shoot-around, really quiet before the game, and it’s hard to tell if we’re flat, we’re pouting, or we’re just focused. I think the kids were just focused. I think they were really disappointed in last night, really expected to win and wanted to play better.”

Turns out, the Mavericks (13-4, 10-3 RMAC) were just focused.

“We were trying to put it past us,” sophomore Mike Melillo said. “Sometimes we come out and joke around a little bit, even two hours before a game, and that’ll throw us off a little bit.

“Tonight we really wanted to focus. We want to win out the rest of the season, and that starts tonight. We wanted to come in and put it away as soon as possible.”

With Jeff Hart scoring 21 points and Melillo 11, Mesa’s defense helped trigger a 16-7 run after the teams traded baskets to open the game.

Colton Burgon’s offensive rebound and putback made it 18-9, then Melillo tipped in a miss by Chandler Burgon, and for the most part the game was over by halftime. A tip-in by Paul Walter with less than a minute to play in the first half helped Mesa lead 36-17 at the break.

“That’s what I told them: When we guard like that, get into people and we’re aggressive, beating screens aggressively, we’re so much better,” Heaps said.

“When we get tentative we’re not very good. It gives you a chance to get runs on people, you’re not trading buckets. Even if you’re not scoring at a real high rate, you’re scoring at a higher rate than they are, so you’re opening up a lead.”

Melillo has had trouble with his shins off and on the past two seasons and earlier this season had mononucleosis, but the past couple of weeks he’s had more spring in his step.

“He had mono, and that just takes you awhile to get over it,” Heaps said. “When he’s cutting he’s a really hard kid to guard because he can shoot and do other things on the perimeter. Now when he cuts — he’s long ... I think he’s grown an inch this year — he can get it inside and finish.”

In part because of Mesa’s defense and in part being overmatched, the Rangers (5-11, 4-9) committed 16 turnovers to Mesa’s eight. The Mavs scored 17 points off turnovers, and in the half-court offense attacked the paint and moved the ball, breaking down the Regis defense.

“When we move without the ball, obviously we get wide-open layups,” Melillo said. “Last night we were trying to penetrate a little too much. If we keep the ball off the floor and go through Colton, he’s such a great passer, we get wide-open layups.”

With the Mavericks, who scored 26 points in the paint, pushing the lead to 22 early in the second half, much of the student section cleared out.

The students were soon followed by more of the 1,234 fans who were there at the start. It just made the Mavericks focus a little more.

“It was a little dead, but we talked on the bench. The crowd’s leaving, but we’ve got to pick each other up,” Melillo said.

The Mavericks had 10 more rebounds (40–30) than Regis and got themselves back to the free-throw line, hitting 24 of 33. Regis made 14 of 19.

Burgon showed signs of getting back into form after struggling the past couple of games, with seven points, seven rebounds and one assist. Mesa shot 50 percent from the field and allowed Regis to shoot only 28 percent.

“He’s kind of in a funk right now, just thinking too much,” Heaps said of his senior post player. “I told him, ‘You’re too good to start doubting yourself or thinking about what you’re doing. Just play.’

“Now we need to put the three of those guys, Mike and Jeff and Colton, all playing well at the same time, and then we’ll be a real tough team.”

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