Defense leads the way
Mesa flusters Mustangs, cruises to win
Colorado Mesa didn’t need a rally or a season-best offensive performance like it did Friday night.
All the Mavericks needed was a solid defense, and they got it, rolling to a 72-45 victory over Western New Mexico on Saturday night at Brownson Arena. It was Mesa’s fourth win in its past five games.
The Mavericks (12-11, 10-9 RMAC) remain in eighth place in the RMAC standings with a two-game lead over New Mexico Highlands for the final spot in the conference tournament with three games left.
“We’re starting to play better at a time when we need it,” CMU coach Andy Shantz said. “In the conference right now, everyone is so close, you can move up the ladder or go down the ladder pretty quick. We’re starting to play some of our best basketball at the end of the year.”
Colorado Mesa, which picked up its play on defense in the second half to defeat Highlands on Friday, gave up a season-low 45 points against the Mustangs.
Western New Mexico (1-21, 1-18 RMAC) shot 37 percent from the floor for the game, 23 percent in the first half.
“The whole talk this week was to play four great halves of defense,” CMU center Ryan Stephan said. “We obviously didn’t do so well in the first half against Highlands, but we came out better in the second half and played two great halves (Saturday). That’s great to have our defense on the way up going into the last couple weeks of the season, because good defensive teams are hard to beat.”
Western New Mexico missed its first eight shots from the floor as the Mavericks built a 13-0 lead behind Stephan. The 6-foot-10 sophomore scored the first six points for Mesa.
“We guarded much better tonight,” Shantz said. “That was our focus coming in. Sometimes it’s a Jekyll-and-Hyde type of deal, and you don’t know where we’ll get it. I hope we’re starting to figure it out and gain some momentum on both sides of the ball. They’re figuring out what we’re trying to teach on defense. As soon as you create those habits, it loosens you up to make plays.”
The Mustangs scored their first points on a layup seven minutes, 46 seconds into the first half, but that didn’t slow Mesa.
Stephan scored inside, was fouled and made the free throw for a three-point play. On the next possession, Jon Orr hit a 3-pointer in the corner, was fouled and made the free throw for a four-point play and a 29-8 lead. Landon Vermeer and Clay Kame hit 3-pointers to give the Mavericks their biggest lead of the first half, 39-12, at halftime.
Stephan led the Mavericks with 23 points and eight rebounds. He made 10 of 16 shots from the floor, including one 3-pointer. He made two of three free throws.
“Ryan only played 17 minutes, but he’s such a tough guard,” Shantz said. “He has such a good range and touch, he can get it off the floor before the double gets there. Our guys have seen it. They’ve seen the success he has. They know we’re good when he gets the ball a lot.”
Carlos Perez added 12 points off the bench, eight in the second half.
“I thought Carlos played really well,” Shantz said. “He got into a little bit of foul trouble in the first half and had to sit for a stretch, but he came out in the second half and really executed. He’s skilled around the basket. He’s doing a good job getting into his move and finishing.”
Stephan scored seven of the Mavs’ first nine points in the second half to give Mesa a 48-19 lead. Mac Alexander hit a 3-pointer a couple of possessions later for a 51-20 lead. He hit another one a few minutes later to give the former football player a career-high six points.
The Mavericks maintained a 20-plus point lead the rest of the way.
Western New Mexico point guard Terrez Scott led the Mustangs with nine points and seven assists.
Colorado Mesa hosts Western State Colorado University in its home finale next Saturday night, then closes the regular season at Adams State and Fort Lewis the next weekend.