A rusty victory
Post players lift Mesa past pesky Cougars
If there’s a coach out there who likes the NCAA-mandated Christmas break for basketball teams and knows a surefire way to get a team playing well the first game back after two weeks, please contact Jim Heaps.
“Boy, am I sorry people had to sit through that,” Heaps said Friday night after the Mavericks shook off the rust for a 61-56 RMAC victory over Colorado Christian University at Brownson Arena.
“You can’t take seven days off of practice, that’s all we took off, and 12 days since your last game and expect to come out and play at a high level. Maybe some other coaches can do that, but I haven’t been able to figure it out.”
The Mavericks showed all the rust of a team that hadn’t played in two weeks in the first half, when inefficient offense led to 33 percent shooting.
Luckily for the Mavericks (8-3, 5-2 RMAC), Ryan Stephan had such a size advantage on the Cougars he could just turn and drop the ball into the basket in the first half, making four of six shots, five from the low block.
Stephan, a 6-foot-10 freshman, came in for Colton Burgon early when Burgon picked up a couple of early fouls and was just too much for the undersized, guard-oriented Cougars to handle.
“Before the game we heard Mines scored 51 of their 70-some points in the paint (against CCU) and their big guys were dominating. I went into it with the mind-set of doing the same thing, and it worked out for us,” Stephan said.
“They were letting me get it low, and they were trying to front and didn’t have help-side, so it was just pretty easy as long as I caught it and squared up.”
When Stephan was in, there was nothing the Cougars could do to keep him out of the paint. And the freshman didn’t have to think about what to do — he called for the ball, got it, turned and scored.
“Any time you see a smaller guy on you, you’re thinking I’m going to catch it and go right up with it and not give him a chance to recover,” Stephan said. “Knowing my size, I have really long arms and as long as I keep it up high, it’s going to fall for me.”
Heaps said the game plan was to go inside to the bigs from the start, but instead, the Mavericks were impatient offensively, almost looking like they were trying to force the rust off their game, making a couple of passes and putting up a jumper.
“We never got late in the clock, maybe one possession,” Heaps said. “It’s not even quick shots. We’ll take quick shots if it’s part of our break and we’re getting into (transition).
“You bet, I have no problem with that. It’s against the set defense, and it’s this idea that I’m going to score. You tried last time, I’ll try this time, and you can try the next time. It’s that my-turn kind of offense that doesn’t work.”
In the second half, though, the Mavericks erased their three-point deficit by running the offense and getting it inside to Burgon, who finished with 13 points, as did Stephan, one point off his career high. Mesa shot 63.6 percent in the second half.
“I don’t think we took advantage of the post players,” Heaps said. “I don’t think they got as many touches as we wanted. We really wanted to attack them inside, and when we did, we shot a high percentage. We went so long without throwing it to them.
“I think we got to that point finally in the second half, we were just going to pound it into Colton.”
With the game up for grabs in the final five minutes, the Mavs came up with some big plays on both ends of the floor.
Daniel Estes hit a jumper for a 51-50 lead with 3:54 to play, and Paul Walter added two free throws, then cut from the wing to the lane for a layup and a 55-52 lead with 1:54 left.
Kevin Screen scrapped for a rebound, and Burgon made a layup on the other end. After a defensive rebound of his own, Burgon was fouled and made both free throws to push CMU’s lead to seven, 59-52, and with 37 seconds remaining, he blocked a shot, grabbed the rebound and was fouled.
“Coach Heaps told us at halftime it’s not pass the ball three times and you have to score, it’s run our offense, swing it twice, and if it’s not there, swing it again,” Burgon said.
“We were really stagnant. We came out the first couple of plays in the second half and got things going. The two-week break obviously wasn’t the best thing. We practiced hard but we didn’t play real well.”
The Mavs were without junior guard Shawn King, who has a “stress fracture precursor,” Heaps said of the pubic bone in King’s pelvis. He’s out for two weeks to try to prevent the bone from fracturing, which would cause him to miss up to 10 weeks.
Senior center Chandler Burgon, out all season after labrum surgery in his right shoulder, has been cleared to practice Monday. Heaps said he’ll need at least two weeks of practice before he’ll play.