Augustana’s size too much for Mesa State

Mesa State guard Ryan Mortensen drives past Cameron McCaffrey of Augustana during Sunday’s Central Region semifinal playoff game.


To listen to Mesa State’s post-game press conference with coach Jim Heaps and seniors Jase Herl and Michael Dominguez:

To listen to Augustana’s post-game press conference with coach Tom Billeter and players Nathan Truex and Cody Schilling:

MANKATO, Minn. — A couple of fans from Augustana (S.D.) College were watching in amazement at the show Michael Dominguez was putting on Sunday during the semifinals of the NCAA Division II Central Region.

“He didn’t do that last night,” one said.

Dominguez played the finest game of his career Sunday, but Mesa State College’s inability to hang with the bigger, thicker Augustana post players on the boards also made it the final game of his career in a 95-84 loss.

“Mike got it going early and our kids, like they’ve done all year, they do a great job of finding the guy who’s got the hot hand and getting him the ball and letting him go,” Mesa State coach Jim Heaps said. “We did a great job in that first half.”

The silky-smooth guard had everyone shaking their heads as he poured in a career-high 41 points. The problem was, the Mavericks got only 13 points from the rest of the starting lineup and were outrebounded 55-37, ending their best season in Division II 23-6.

“We were defending pretty well and making them take shots but they did a great job of taking advantage of their size,” Heaps said. “They were getting an extra two, three, four possessions at a time. We can’t give up 19 offensive rebounds and hope to beat anybody. That was a huge factor.”

The thing is, the Mavericks, who have struggled to get off to a good start the last third of the season, were in a nice rhythm in the first half.

Dominguez was hitting jumpers from the baseline, driving from the wing and hitting pretty spin moves in the paint.

Michael Bear was scoring in the paint and Brian Kenshalo was catching and shooting, hitting a couple of 3s early.

Both sophomores finished with a dozen points and Bear had a team-high seven rebounds, two steals and blocked a shot.

Dominguez had 22 points by halftime to give the Mavericks a 41-35 lead.

“I thought obviously it was an example of we controlled the tempo for about 35 minutes of the game and we allowed them to control the tempo for about five or six,” Heaps said. “They did a great job of finally getting the tempo they wanted. They picked up their defensive intensity.”

The Vikings (24-6), threw a lot of size at Mesa in the second half and had their point guards back off defensively and help on Dominguez.

“They were maybe on me a little tighter,” Dominguez said. “The main thing is, we gave up too many offensive rebounds. They scored 90-some points. We’re not that kind of team that if somebody scores 90 on us we’re going to win.”

A baseline cut for a layup by Dominguez gave the Mavericks a 47-37 lead 2 ½ minutes into the second half but the Mavs got stuck there for nearly three minutes.

“We kind of helped fuel it,” said senior guard Jase Herl, who never quite got untracked, but scored nine points and had five rebounds. “We took some bad shots and kind of got into their game going up and down with them. That’s what they wanted to do. We fell into that. They’re really good at it and it showed. We started pressing and that fueled their fire.”

Augustana scored 13 straight points to lead 50-47 and kept knocking down shots. Even when the Vikings missed, somebody was there for offensive rebounds or tip-ins.

Augustana had 19 offensive rebounds and scored 18 second-chance points. If they weren’t able to latch on to the ball, they were able to knock it off a Mesa State player out of bounds and got eight extra possessions that way.

And the Vikings took a page from Mesa State’s book on Saturday, cashing in at the free-throw line. Augustana hit 31 of 39 free throws, the Mavs 15 of 21.

Mesa’s loss ended the careers of the six seniors, transfers Dominguez, Herl, Justin Ashbaugh and Ryan Mortensen, and the two five-year players, Aaron Markham and Sean Flohr.

“They battled to the end and they had a heck of a year,” Heaps said. “This was a special year for me and these guys are as good of people off the court as they are on it. I told them in the locker room I got into coaching to have an influence on people and it always amazes me how much of an influence they have on me, I think a lot more so than what I have on them.”


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