Loss puts Mavericks in must-win mode tonight
Home game vs. road game — it comes down to tonight.
Colorado Mesa’s men’s basketball team must beat Fort Lewis College on Senior Night at Brownson Arena to assure the Mavericks of a first-round home game in the RMAC Shootout next week.
After Friday night’s 75-68 loss to Adams State, the Mavericks’ lead over CSU-Pueblo for fourth place is only one game with one to play.
The ThunderWolves did exactly what they had to do Friday, upsetting No. 2 Metro State 70-69, and face Regis tonight with a chance to secure the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament. Fort Lewis, second in the RMAC, lost 80-69 to Western State, keeping the Mountaineers in the No. 8 spot, one game ahead of Colorado Christian.
It’s almost a cinch Mesa will play CSU-Pueblo in the first round with the 4-5 matchup, it’s just a matter of location.
Right now, though, CMU coach Jim Heaps is more concerned with his team getting back to playing well the entire game.
The Mavericks (17-8, 14-7 RMAC) blew a 12-point halftime lead and were outscored 52-33 in the second half by the Grizzlies (18-7, 15-6).
One number from the boxscore is hard to ignore: CMU gave up 18 offensive rebounds, nine in each half, and the Grizzlies scored 16 second-chance points in their second-half comeback.
“They trashed us (on the boards). They beat us on hustle plays and crushed us on the boards and made the plays they had to down the stretch, and we didn’t,” Heaps said.
Time and time again, the rebound was tipped, only to see a green-shirted player leap above the Mavericks and grab the ball.
“If we give up 18 offensive rebounds, we’re going to get whipped,” Heaps said. “This team has rebounded well, up until tonight.”
In building an 18-point lead in the first half, the Mavericks were hitting layups and finding the open man.
But when Adams jumped in a full-court press after made baskets to open the second half, everything changed.
Two quick turnovers cut the 14-point lead to 10, and less than four minutes into the second half the Mavs’ lead was only five, 40-35.
“At that point we got real tentative,” Heaps said. “We quit attacking, nobody wanted the ball in their hands. They wanted to get rid of it as quick as they could and get as far away from it as possible.”
Mesa had success getting the ball in to Colton Burgon, who had 13 points but missed seven of 10 free throws.
A handful of layups when Burgon, a 55 percent free-throw shooter, was drawing contact rolled out, leaving the Mavs without points instead of a possible three-point play when he couldn’t convert at the line.
Mesa, which shoots only 66.5 percent from the line as a team, went 13 of 23 at the line, 7 of 15 in the second half.
Those missed opportunities, combined with 10 second-half turnovers and a big dose of Kaimyn Pruitt, kept the Mavericks from regaining control of the game despite shooting 51 percent from the field.
Pruitt scored 18 of his game-high 22 points in the second half and also grabbed 11 rebounds, seven on the offensive end.
Jeff Hart scored 16 points for the Mavericks, Mike Melillo 12 and Ryan Stephan eight.
Mesa was up 50-44 with 10 minutes to go when the game swung for the final time.
Daniel Estes stole the ball and got it to Melillo on the break. His layup, though, rolled off, and Norvell Arnold quickly scored on the other end for the Grizzlies.
“We’re trying to hold on, and we’ve got a six-point lead, we have a breakaway layup, and Mike misses the layup,” Heaps said. “They cherry pick and throw it deep and score. It’s gonna be eight, and instead it’s four.
“In that stretch we’re getting free-throw opportunities, and we don’t knock those down. Those are the bugaboos that have been getting us all year.
“We turn it over, bad turnovers ... it was a team situation.
“I told them that if we’re gonna play like that, we might as well just head to Pueblo right now.”