Back to the basics: Mesa men use defense, patience to top Highlands

Photo by Gretel Daugherty—Mesa State’s Jase Herl, center, drives between New Mexico Highland’s Ladreece Smith, left, and Chop Tang on Saturday during the Mavs’ 83-75 win at Brownson Arena.

All week, the Mesa State College men’s basketball players talked about getting back to the things that helped them win 20 of 21 games.

Play defense. After New Mexico Highlands shot 47 percent from the field in the first half Saturday — even with a hand in shooters’ faces — the Mavericks’ defense allowed the Cowboys to shoot only 25 percent from the field in the second half.

Be patient on offense. The Mavs made pass after pass after pass, cutting through the lane and finding good looks, shooting nearly 54 percent in the first half and almost 49 percent in the game.

Attack the basket. Highlands committed 30 fouls and sent the Mavs to the free-throw line 42 times.

Make free throws. Thirty-two for 42 isn’t too bad.

“We missed a couple down the stretch. I missed two,” senior Jase Herl said. “But as a team we shot them better than we have the past couple of weeks, so that makes a difference.”

All of those things added up to an 83-75 victory over Highlands in front of several former Mavericks in town for alumni weekend. It allowed the Mavericks (22-4, 16-3 RMAC) to remain undefeated at home this season (11-0), yet another one of their goals.

“The first time I talked to Mike Dominguez, he said, ‘I think we can win all our home games and win a conference title,’ ‘’ coach Jim Heaps said. “Those guys all believe so much in themselves and what they can accomplish.”

Mesa State earned the No. 1 seed in the RMAC Shootout with its conference championship and plays CSU-Pueblo at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Brownson Arena.

Highlands, which plays at Fort Lewis on Tuesday in the other West Division first-round game (CU-Colorado Springs is at Metro State and Colorado Christian is at Colorado Mines in the East), couldn’t miss early, using an 18-2 run to lead 39-29 with 4:37 to play.

An offensive rebound and a foul, with Lance Fite hitting two free throws, triggered Mesa State’s 15-5 run to tie the game at 44-44 at halftime.

Down 71-70 with three minutes left, all those free throws they shoot every day in practice paid off.

“In practice we have to make 10, 12 in a row before we leave the gym,” Fite said. “We’ve known all year that free throws are either going to win us games or lose us games. Tonight was a big example. That won us the game.”

The Mavericks made 13 of 16 down the stretch.

Fite gave the Mavs the strength they needed under the basket, grabbing 10 rebounds and taking four charges, the last one with 17.2 seconds left to pretty much seal the game.

Michael Dominguez led the Mavs with 26 points (10 for 10 at the line), Herl had 19 and Michael Bear 11.

The Mavs’ point guards, Markham and Mortensen, put the defensive clamps on Roman Andrafe, who hit only two of 13 shots from the field and missed all six of his 3-pointers. Chop Tang finished with 17 points for Highlands, but scored only five in the second half.

Now the Mavericks can look to the postseason.

“These last three games we’ve been playing better,” Herl said. “That’s what we needed to do. Coming back from losing three in a row and winning two in a row, we’re building on that.”


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