Late surge propels Highlands past Mesa
Colorado Mesa University’s men’s basketball team has been a second-half club all season.
The Mavericks seemed to change that Friday night, racing to a 13-3 lead against New Mexico Highlands.
The Mavericks were one-upped by the Cowboys, whose 14-2 run late in the first half helped erase the Mavs’ lead and propel Highlands to a 74-70 RMAC victory.
Colorado Mesa had plenty of chances in the second half to come away with the critical road win. Poor free-throw shooting, though, dropped the Mavericks (16-6, 13-5) out of second place in the conference behind Fort Lewis and Adams State, which both won at home to move to 13-4 in RMAC play.
The Mavericks made only 10 of 20 free throws, only 5 of 12 in the final 10 minutes of the game.
Conversely, the Cowboys (11-11, 9-9) finished 12 of 15 at the line and made 9 of 11 in the final 10 minutes with the game in the balance.
A jumper by Stargell Love tied the game in the opening minute of the second half, erasing what was once a 14-point CMU lead.
After the Cowboys pulled ahead by four, 46-42, with 14 minutes, 28 seconds to play, the Mavericks kept battling back.
Jeff Hart hit a 3-pointer to make it a one-point game, then made two free throws after Ray Riley scored inside, and followed that up with a tip-in at the 11:15 mark to give the Mavs a 51-50 lead.
Hart led the Mavericks with 20 points and nine rebounds.
The game was tied six times in the final 9½ minutes.
Mike Melillo hit the back end of a two-shot foul with 4:51 remaining for a 63-62 lead, but Love made two free throws 20 seconds later.
Colton Burgon, who finished with 17 points, but went 5 of 10 from the line, made a layup for a 65-64 lead at the 4:15 mark.
Stuart Sullivan answered for the Cowboys with a 3-pointer to put Highlands up 67-65, and Daniel Estes was fouled on a drive to the basket. He, too, made one of two free throws, and Highlands never lost the lead over the final three minutes.
Mesa pulled within one point twice. Burgon went inside and was fouled with 2:02 to play. The basket wouldn’t fall, and he missed the first free throw and made the second to cut it to 68-67.
Stargell got inside and scored, and Hart answered inside for the Mavericks with 1:47 to play, keeping the deficit at one, 70-69.
Again, Stargell, who scored 24 points for Highlands, connected on a short jumper with 32 seconds to play to make it 72-69.
With 19 seconds left, Burgon was again fouled, and again, made only one of two free throws.
Clay Kame quickly fouled Love, who missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Paul Walter grabbed the rebound, giving the Mavs a chance to tie or win it at the end.
With eight seconds left, the Mavericks called time to set up the final shot.
Walter inbounded the ball to Landon Vermeer, who passed it back to Walter. Walter, though, was whistled for stepping out of bounds, and Lavell McDade made two free throws to seal it.