First-half deficit too big for CMU men to overcome

Colorado Mesa’s CJ Davis scores two of his 12 points Friday night in the first half of the Mavs’ 83-68 loss to Montana State-Billings in the Holiday Inn-Airport Thanksgiving Classic at Brownson Arena. Trailing by 20 in the second half, CMU cut the deficit to six but Billings pulled away.

Zone isn’t the preferred defense of the Colorado Mesa men’s basketball team, but it helped the undersized Mavericks at least get back in the game Friday night.

The Mavericks (1-4) still dropped an 83-68 decision to Montana State-Billings in the Holiday Inn-Airport Thanksgiving Classic at Brownson Arena, but after falling behind by 20, they didn’t have much choice other than switch defenses.

Mesa’s man-to-man defense was giving up too many open looks to the Yellowjackets, who were knocking down 3-pointers like they were open layups.

Billings was also getting to the basket too easily and hurting the Mavs on the boards, grabbing seven offensive rebounds in the first half and scoring a dozen second-chance points.

Billings (2-3) entered the game shooting only 25 percent from the 3-point line, making only 27 of 109. Friday, the ‘Jackets made 18 of 42 (42.9 percent). Eleven of those 3s came in the first half against the Mavs’ man defense.

“Sometimes that shooting is just a rhythm thing,” CMU coach Andy Shantz said. “You feel like you’ll give up more perimeter shots in a zone sometimes but we weren’t.”

The 2-3 zone threw just enough of a wrinkle at the Yellowjackets that the shots weren’t falling and the Mavericks settled down just enough to claw back into the game.

“I think they were surprised; we executed it well,” senior guard Eimer Lopez said of the zone. “We kind of stopped them a little bit from shooting 3s, but we have to work more on our one-on-one (man defense), keep people in front us and play better defense.”

From the 20-point deficit three minutes into the second half until the 6:34 mark, the Mavericks (1-4) went on a 28-4 run, trailing 64-59 on a 3-pointer by Nate Hawley, one of five the senior forward hit, most from the top of the key on a pick-and-pop set.

After Billings made a pair of free throws, Lopez found a seam and drove, but his shot was blocked by Kamal Tall. After a scramble on the other end, Jace Anderson buried a 3-pointer from the corner, pushing the lead back to nine.

Lopez, who scored 14 points for the Mavericks, hit a driving layup from the wing, but Marc Matthews answered with one of his seven 3-pointers, deep from the top of the key.

Nine points was as close as the Mavericks could get the rest of the way.

The comeback was impressive, but the first half killed any chance the Mavericks had to pick up a win in their home debut. A team that prides itself on execution, the Mavericks had breakdowns on both ends of the floor.

“They couldn’t miss a shot and we didn’t stop it at all,” Lopez said. “We didn’t play great defense today. We have to learn from that.

“I don’t know if it was our first home game, but it felt like a lot of people were too anxious, including me, and trying to do their own thing. We didn’t stick to the plan Coach wanted us to.”

Shantz wasn’t sure if it was a case of home-opener jitters or over-trying, but they fell into a trap of playing too fast and too much one-on-one basketball. That led to eight first-half turnovers — Mesa had only two in the second half.

“We just didn’t play at our pace, especially early,” he said. “I don’t know if it was our first home game and we were over-trying. They started hitting some shots.

“We’ve got good kids, they work hard, but we’re a team that has to execute to be successful. We’ve done that in a lot of our games this year. We’re playing against good competition and we haven’t done it for long enough stretches.”

Hawley finished with 17 points, CJ Davis and Tanner Riley 12 each.

Anderson led the Yellowjackets, who shot 48.3 percent from the field, with 22 points. Matthews and Preston Beverly had 21 each.

“Hopefully it’s a lesson learned,” Shantz said. “We’re kind of learning the hard way right now. We’re fighting that a little bit, but there’s a lot of character in that locker room and I think they’ll respond.”

Midwestern State 75, Western State 63: Igor Ibaka, the younger brother of the Orlando Magic’s Serge Ibaka, scored 12 points as the Mustangs finally put away a stubborn Western State team in the second half.

Ibaka, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound power forward who transferred from Oklahoma State after a year at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, also had eight rebounds and blocked two shots.

The Mountaineers (1-2) cut a 10-point deficit to six, 68-62, with 33 seconds to play, but had to foul, and the Mustangs (5-1) made four free throws, then Sheldon Hagigal buried a 3-pointer with 22 seconds left.

Magnus Richard led Midwestern with 18 points. Ben Beauchamp led all scorers with 21 for Western.


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