Free-throw shooting helps Metro hold off Mesa men

Colorado Mesa gave itself a chance against the No. 1-ranked men’s basketball team in NCAA Division II, but the Mavericks couldn’t pull off the upset.

Metro State drew 19 fouls in the second half to pull away for an 83-74 victory in the first round of the RMAC Shootout on Tuesday night at the Auraria Events Center in Denver.

The Roadrunners (26-1) have won 23 consecutive games and will host the RMAC Shootout this weekend. Metro State plays Fort Lewis in the semifinals Friday night. Mesa’s season is over.

The Mavericks (13-14) took care of the basketball with only nine turnovers and shot 51 percent from the floor in the second half, but Mesa couldn’t keep the Roadrunners off the free-throw line.

“It was pretty much a carbon copy of the last game (against Metro State),” CMU coach Andy Shantz said. “It’s like a bad dream.

“The first half we played well; we just missed some open looks. Then we put them on the (free throw) line 20-plus times. We needed to keep them off the line.”

Metro State hit 21 of 27 free throws, all in the second half. Colorado Mesa didn’t commit one foul in the first half. The Mavs finished with 19.

“They do such a good job crashing the boards,” Shantz said of Metro State. “We tried to give help, but that takes you out of rebounding position.”

Metro junior guard Mitch McCarron led all scorers with 22 points, making eight of 11 shots from the floor. He had eight rebounds and three assists. Forward Nicholas Kay had 21 points and eight rebounds. RMAC player of the year Brandon Jefferson scored 15 points, hitting all eight of his free throws.

All-RMAC center Ryan Stephan led Mesa with 17 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots. Landon Vermeer scored 13 points and Mike Melillo added 12 for the Mavericks.

There were nine lead changes in the first half. Colorado Mesa led 9-5 with 13:15 left when McCarron hit a 3-pointer and a layup to start a 15-4 run for a 20-13 Metro lead. The Roadrunners hit three 3-pointers during the run.

Stephan scored inside, then hit a 3-pointer on the next possession to get Mesa within a point, 24-23, with 5:35 left. Metro led 30-29 at halftime.

Mesa stayed with the Roadrunners early in the second half with buckets from Stephan and Joe Kiely before Metro went on a 7-2 run for a 45-39 lead.

The Mavs cut the lead to one again with 10:24 left on a Mike Melillo 3-pointer, and they tied the game on a Jon Orr jumper with 8:42 left, but they couldn’t take the lead.

“We were out of rhythm,” Shantz said. “We’d get a dumb foul and put them on the line.”

Jefferson and the Roadrunners started drawing more fouls, and Metro made 13 of 16 free throws in the final eight minutes.

Jefferson scored nine of his 15 points in the final eight minutes.

The Roadrunners shot 65 percent from the floor in the second half.

All but two players return for Mesa next season from a squad with four new players, including two starters.

“We had a lot of new kids this year,” Shantz said. “We had our ups and downs. We got hot toward the end, but lost three tough games that could’ve gone either way. We’re looking forward to the future.”

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