Defense keys Mavs’ turnaround


CMU Men’s Basketball

Colorado Mesa (11-8, 9-6 RMAC) at Nebraska-Kearney (11-7, 9-6), 7 p.m. today

Colorado Mesa at Chadron State (6-13, 6-9), 8 p.m. Saturday

Notes: The Mavericks are limiting opponents to 37.4 percent shooting from the floor, which ranks fourth in Division II.  ... CMU Senior forward Michael Bear is out with a sprained ankle. ... Mesa beat both teams at Brownson Arena earlier this season. ... Chadron State has won four of its past six games and are 4-3 at home. The Eagles are led by senior guard Kevin McClelland (13.3 points per game) and senior center Moala Tautuaa (13.2 ppg). Kearney has two lost consecutive games after winning five in a row. The Lopers are 8-2 at home, but are 3-6 in games when they are out-rebounded. They are led by sophomore forward Mike Dentlinger (14.8 ppg). ... Mesa and Kearney are tied for fourth place in the RMAC. A Maverick victory will give them the head-to-head tiebreaker for seeding purposes in the RMAC tournament.

After being mired in a slump, the Colorado Mesa University men’s basketball team is playing its best basketball of the season.

It couldn’t come at a better time.

“We’re really encouraged,” Colorado Mesa coach Jim Heaps said. “I thought, for the first time since Christmas, we put together a complete game two nights in a row. We started getting back to where we were before Christmas.”

The Mavericks (11-8, 9-6 RMAC) are on a three-game winning streak that includes a win over then-No. 3 Metro State last weekend.

The turnaround after four losses in five games started with defense.

“Our kids take a lot of pride in our defense,” Heaps said. “I thought we defended really well Friday from start to finish. The kids came out with the same kind of focus Saturday night and defended well for 40 minutes. I don’t know if I’ve ever had two games back-to-back where we played better defense.”

The post players have provided solid defense all season long, leading the RMAC with 82 blocked shots (4.3 per game). The point guards have done a good job as well, but Mesa’s been getting better defensive play out of their wing players like Jeff Hart, Mike Melillo, Nate Nelson, Shawn King and Landon Vermeer.

“I thought this past weekend both Jeff Hart and Nate Nelson, both are real capable defensive players,” Heaps said. “Landon Vermeer is getting so much better. Our wings are getting so much better.

“The teams we play have great wings. What we’ve got to do is get great defense from our wings. When they play well defensively, I feel like we can be a dominate defensive team.”

It showed last weekend.

Mesa limited Regis and Metro State to season-lows in points (Regis 36, Metro 47). Regis’ 13 made field goals is a CMU opponent low for the season.

“If we play like we did last weekend, we can beat anyone. The big if there is sustaining that on the road.

“If you defend and rebound the ball, you have a chance.”

The victory over Metro State could get the Mavericks into a third-consecutive NCAA tournament, but only if the Mavericks continue to win at home and steal a couple wins on the road.

Mesa has that opportunity tonight at Nebraska-Kearney and Saturday at Chadron State.

“It’s a very difficult trip,” Heaps said. “It’s extremely long. They are two real capable teams with big wins. Kearney beat Mines up there. Chadron lost to Metro by four at home. Both teams are tough matchups and play really hard.”


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