Injury to Herl mars Mavs’ win

GUNNISON — Paul Wright Gymnasium went silent Tuesday night as Jase Herl hit the floor, hollering in pain and grabbing his right ankle.

The heart and soul of the Mesa State College men’s basketball team had just slashed through the paint as he’s done hundreds, probably thousands, of times in his career. He missed a short jumper and came down on another player’s foot, rolling his ankle.

“Everybody heard him yell and saw him grab it and they knew it was serious,” Mesa State coach Jim Heaps said. “For 21 games he’s been the heart and soul of our team. Mike Dominguez is the brain, Jase is the heart and soul. Everybody who watches us play knows that and him getting hurt really affected us.”

The ninth-ranked Mavericks, stunned to see their leader on the bench only four minutes into the second half, finally got their wits about them and held on to defeat Western State 68-62.

Herl, who spent the rest of the game at the end of the bench with ice wrapped on his ankle, has at least a severe sprain, possible a broken ankle, Heaps said. Herl left the gym on crutches and will be evaluated today by team doctors.

“When something like that happens to a person like Jase Herl, you could just see us deflate,” Heaps said. “I know it really affected Mike Dominguez and we just went flat. I did. I think they did.”

With Herl out after scoring eight points and grabbing eight rebounds, the Mavericks looked to Michael Bear, who scored 22 points and had nine rebounds, and Dominguez, who added a hard-fought 16 points.

“We need everyone on the team, and when you’re one guy short, our team is so deep; that’s why we’re so good,” Bear said. “One guy goes down, you have to step it up and battle through it.”

Dominguez was shadowed the entire night, and when he tried to put the ball on the floor, the Mountaineers cut off his path to the basket. He hit only one 3-pointer in four attempts, was 4 of 10 from the field, but hit seven of eight free throws, including four in the final 25 seconds to seal the victory.

“They’re going to gang up on him and when he puts it on the floor they’re going to attack him and not give him any openings,” Heaps said. “Coach (Andy) Shantz made a great adjustment late and moved Lance (Fite) up high and Mike had some room to penetrate from the wing. If teams gear up to stop one player, that’s gonna happen, and I think Mike Bear really played great in the post for us. He had to.”

Western State (5-16, 2-12 RMAC) did exactly what it had to in its bid to upset the Mavericks (20-1 14-0), who moved into the NCAA Division II top 10 on Tuesday for the first time in school history.

The Mountaineers were patient on offense and shot the ball well — 46 percent for the game — and played solid defense, especially on the perimeter, to keep the Mavericks from attacking off the dribble.

Mesa State was able to get the ball inside to Bear, though, who went 9 of 14 from the field and hit a 3-pointer in the first half.

“When you get someone that you know you can take, you want to exploit that and that’s what I tried to do,” Bear said. “It’s just persistence. If you go at them enough times, they’re going to fall back and you can go through them.”

Dan Hobin and Weylan Towns each scored 18 for the Mountaineers, who cut into Mesa’s 10-point lead, getting it to four, 49-45, with 11:35 to play.

Dominguez hit one free throw, and with just more than eight minutes to play, he deflected a pass in the lane to Bear for a turnover. Brian Kenshalo hit a 3-pointer trailing the break for a 53-45 lead.

Western just kept coming back. Tyler Miller hit a couple of 3-pointers down the stretch, cutting Mesa’s lead to only two, 62-60, with 2:46 to play.

Alex Barthule came up with a steal, but Towns threw the ball out of bounds when Barthule cut toward the basket and Towns was expecting him to come to the ball.

Kenshalo missed a 3 but the Mavericks knocked the ball off Towns to maintain possession and Dominguez was held on the inbounds play.

He hit two free throws with 1:37 to go and added the final four to put the game away.

“Western played really well,” Heaps said. “Our kids just found a way to gut it out and find a way to win at the end.”


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