Solid 'D' gives Shantz his 1st win as Mesa coach
They waited so long to play a game, the Mavericks needed a half to shake off the cobwebs.
Finally, the Colorado Mesa University men’s basketball team put together a run Friday night in the second half to give Andy Shantz his first career victory as head coach.
The Mavericks clawed out a 69-64 victory over Montana Western, ranked No. 8 in the NAIA, in the Holiday Inn-Airport Thanksgiving Classic at Brownson Arena.
“I haven’t given it any thought whatsoever,” Shantz said. “It’s been three weeks since we played and it’s been a long break. I still remember as a player how hard that is to wait around. Our guys did a great job staying interested and trying to get better the past two weeks. We felt like we had to do that on the defensive end.
“I’m happy we got a win for those guys. It’s an extremely hard-working bunch. I was looking forward to getting them a win and try to get it going forward.”
Jerry Duckworth led the Mavericks with a season-high 15 points — all 3-pointers. Mike Melillo had his first double-double of the season with 13 points and 12 rebounds with five assists. Ryan Stephan scored 10.
“We practiced hard the last two weeks getting prepared for this,” Duckworth said. “We might have come out a little bit sluggish, but I think that was just nerves. We knew we could do better in the second half. That’s what we did.
“It is special because it is Coach Shantz’s first win. I’m happy we got it for him tonight.”
The Mavs (1-2) did it with defense — something they were missing in the first two games this season. They came in allowing opponents to shoot 54 percent from the floor and score 87 points a game.
Mesa limited the Bulldogs (6-4) to 42 percent shooting from the floor. Montana Western’s 64 points was a season-low allowed by the Mavericks.
“We played much better (defensively),” Shantz said. “We struggled early offensively. We looked sluggish to me. Luckily the defense kept us in it.
“That’s what we tell the guys, you’ll have some of those nights the jump shot’s not falling for you, (defense) can still keep you in games. If you don’t defend and you have one of those nights, you don’t have much of a chance to win. I was really pleased to see that. I felt we made progress and got better.”
Montana Western went on a 9-0 run for a 26-17 lead with less than seven minutes left in the first half.
The Mavericks scored on five of their next six possessions, including two 3-pointers from Duckworth, to get within one at halftime.
Duckworth tied his season high by halftime with nine points on three 3-pointers.
“Jerry played great tonight,” Shantz said. “I was happy to see him have success. He’s a great kid and a pleasure to coach. He played well offensively, but he grew up tonight defensively. He did an outstanding job, I thought. It was fun to watch Jerry tonight.”
The Mavs got it going in the second half. Landon Vermeer hit a 3-pointer to give Mesa its first lead since midway through the first half. Five possessions later, Daniel Estes hit a 3-pointer that started a 15-3 run for a 52-42 lead.
Duckworth hit two 3-pointers during the run.
“I think what started our offense was our defense getting stops,” Duckworth said. “Coach says we can run and get easy buckets when opportunities present itself. We were playing good defense and got out and ran. I happened to be open a lot so the guys found me. I tried to knock it down as much as I can for them.”
Duckworth is a junior transfer from Cochise (Ariz.) College, where he led the Apaches to a league championship and 50 wins in two seasons.
“It was a good confidence builder,” Duckworth said. “I’m coming from a run-and-gun team, so it’s different here, but Coach Shantz and (Michael) Dominguez have been great teaching me telling me what cuts I need to make. I’m getting better as it goes. They’re giving me confidence letting me know I’m learning fast.”
The Bulldogs answered with a pair of free throws and back-to-back 3-pointers to cut Mesa’s lead to two with 6:56 left.
Clay Kame scored, then Melillo put back a missed shot, was fouled and made the free throw for a 57-50 lead. Vermeer added another 3-pointer, then Mesa hit enough free throws in the final 2½ minutes to win it.
“We’ve got to string stops together if we want to run a bit,” Shantz said. “If we can do that, it tends to give you a little bit more energy on the defensive end. It gets you into a rhythm offensively. We did that in the second half. I think we had nerves early. The second half the kids responded and play well.”