Big men’s ability to block shots helps Colorado Mesa defense


Colorado Mesa Mavericks (5-3, 3-1)

Last Season: MSC 75, FLC 67; MSC 72, FLC 52; FLC 74, MSC 66 (RMAC tournament); FLC 76, MSC 55 (NCAA regional); MSC 89, ASC 77; ASC 68; MSC 65.

Coach: Jim Heaps, 16th season (270-154)

Probable Starters

PG: Kevin Screen, 5-9 Soph. (2.4 ppg, 2.3 apg, 5 steals)

G: Jeff Hart, 6-4 Jr. (8.1 ppg, 2.5 apg, 5 steals)

Wing: Mike Melillo, 6-5 RFr. (9.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.4 apg)

F: Michael Bear, 6-7 Sr. (16.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 13 blocked shots)

C: Chandler Burgon, 6-8 Jr. (5.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 7 blocked shots)

Notes: Heaps took the blame for the Mavericks’ loss at the buzzer to New Mexico Highlands even though a photograph shows the Cowboys’ final shot was after the final buzzer. “You have to make plays during the course of the game,” Heaps said. “Sometimes (last-second shots) go in your favor, sometimes they do not. The officials can look at it. The problem is, it’s a reversible deal. That’s what we were asking, but they didn’t do that.” ... The 81 points Highlands scored against CMU is a season-high against the Mavericks. ... CMU has scored 71 or more points since RMAC play began two weeks ago.

Fort Lewis Skyhawks (4-3, 2-1)

Coach: Bob Hofman, 16th season (289-154)

Probable Starters

G: Matt Billups, 6-0 Sr. (10.9 ppg, 15 assists, 11 steals)

G: Matthias Weissel, 6-2 Jr. (9.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 8 assists)

G: Michael Matthews, 6-0 Soph. (7.9 ppg, 15 assists, 5 steals)

F: Torrey Udall, 6-9 Jr. (10.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 8 blocked shots)

C: Matt Morris, 6-6 Sr. (10.1 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 10 steals)

Notes: The Skyhawks lost six seniors from their NCAA Sweet 16 team from last season. This year’s starting five return, but the bench is full of newcomers. “Fort Lewis is newer,” Heaps said. “Even their returners are filling new roles. It takes a little bit of time, but they’re playing very good basketball. They are disciplined and going to run their stuff. We’ve always been very similar teams. This year maybe more than any other because they are bigger. It will be a pound-it-in type of game.” ... Fort Lewis is coming off a 67-62 loss to Adams State last weekend.

Adams State Grizzlies (6-0, 3-0)

Coach: Louis Wilson, 2nd season (26-9)

Probable Starters

G: Jamiko Verner, 5-11 Sr. (4.5 ppg, 15 assists, 11 steals)

G/F: Shayar Lee, 6-5 Sr. (8.6 ppg, 7 blocked shots, 11 steals)

G: Robby Hanzlik, 6-3 Sr. (13.0 ppg, 7 assists, 5 steals)

F: Kaimyn Pruitt, 6-8 Jr. (10.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 11 steals)

C: Jack Osborn, 6-10 Jr. (14.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 7 blocked shots)

Notes: The Grizzlies lead the RMAC in scoring (85.3 points per game), assists (22.7 per game) and steals (13.8 per game). They lead the nation in assists and are second in the nation steals. Preseason All-RMAC players Deray Wilson and Marqus Richards are averaging 13.0 and 12.6 points a game coming off the bench. “Adams State plays up-tempo,” Heaps said. “They’re going to pressure you. They want to create offense with their defense. You have to control the tempo against them. They are very athletic and good in the open court. We want to make it a half-court game.”

Chandler Burgon and Colton Burgon used to try to draw offensive charges under the basket.

It didn’t seem to work. The Colorado Mesa University men’s basketball players were in constant foul trouble.

At least one of the 6-foot-8 Burgon brothers or 6-foot-7 Michael Bear fouled out in the first three games of the season, including an exhibition game against Southern Utah.

“At the beginning of the season, we tried to take charges,” Chandler Burgon said. “Coach (Jim) Heaps finally said to me and Colton, ‘You’re not charge-takers, you’re shot-blockers. You should try to block every single shot.’ That’s made a huge change at least for me and the fouls I get. I used to get five, now I’m down to two. That’s made a big difference.”

Since those first three games, none of the Mavs’ three big men have fouled out and they are blocking more shots. The Mavericks lead the RMAC with 4.4 blocked shots per game. They had eight blocked shots in a win against Western New Mexico.

“It’s huge, the number of shots they missed because we have good challenges against them,” Bear said of blocking shots. “Even if we don’t block them, with me and Chandler down there, we’re extremely hard to shoot over.”

Bear leads the RMAC in blocked shots with 1.6 per game. Colton Burgon is sixth with 1.3 per game and Chandler Burgon is averaging 0.9 per game.

With three players 6-7 or taller, they get a lot of practice challenging shots against each other.

“For us in practice, it makes us better,” Chandler Burgon said. “We go against two of the best shot blockers in the conference, it’s a whole lot easier to shoot shots in a game. If I can score against Colton or Mike Bear, I can score on anyone. It works on the other end, too. If I can block Colton or Mike, I can block anyone.”

The trio’s presence has made CMU one of the best defenses in the RMAC. The Mavericks are first in the RMAC and eighth in the nation in defensive field goal percentage (36.7 percent).

“We have a lot of kids that are conscientious on the defensive end,” Heaps said. “They want to play defense. The biggest factor we have going for us is our length and size. We’ve always got at least one 6-8 guy in the game. Our wings are big and long.

“Anytime you’re shooting over size, your shooting percentage is going to be lower. Our kids are going to challenge everything. There are no easy scores.”

Defensive field goal percentage is Heaps’ top priority and the Mavericks’ defense is doing its job well.

The opponents’ field goal percentage is the lowest in Heaps’ 16 seasons, he said.

“I don’t worry too much about points given up,” Heaps said. “We’re not going to force a lot of turnovers, we’re going to try to make them take tough shots. We try to limit second-chance points. We feel like if we’re doing those things, we’re doing our job.

“Because of our size, it’s hard to shoot over it. It’s hard to rebound and we have that defensive mindset. Probably overall, right now, it’s as good of a defensive team I’ve coached simply because of the size and mindset.”

Bear has developed into a good offensive player, second in the RMAC averaging 16.6 points per game, but he takes pride in playing good defense.

“I think too many people coming out of high school put too much emphasis on points per game or offensive statistics,” Bear said.

“The best thing you can do for your team doesn’t show up in statistics, like being there on help side and challenging shots. Those things are almost (as important) or more important than hitting jump shots.”


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