Mathews pouring in the points for Mesa State
There’s a difference between scoring and scoring within the offense.
Ryan Mathews has always been a scorer. Now, though, the 6-foot senior guard for the Mesa State College men’s basketball team knows how to score within the framework of the motion offense.
“I was talking to (associate head coach Andy) Shantz about how I’m more in sync with the offense than I’ve been before, using other players to get open,” Mathews said.
“I think earlier in the season and last year I was trying to go one-on-one and doing it all myself. Now that I’m understanding the offense and the other players, it’s a lot easier to score.”
After all, Mathews said, he’s the beneficiary of his teammates’ work.
“They’re doing all the dirty work setting screens and getting rebounds,” he said with a grin.
“I’ve just gotta shoot it.”
Mesa State (6-7, 3-3 RMAC) wraps up play against the RMAC East Division on Friday, playing at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs (3-10, 3-2 RMAC). Saturday, the Mavs play their final nonconference game of the season at Johnson & Wales in Denver.
Don’t get the impression that Mathews is just a scorer, though.
Yes, he’s scoring 18.5 points a game, tops on the team, but he also leads the Mavs in assists with 39, and he picks up three rebounds a game.
“The big thing is, when you get other people involved and you’re a threat to pass, you’re a lot harder to guard,” he said. “If I drive and you help and I pass, you’re not going to help as much. Passing the ball is a big key to scoring.”
Mathews has scored 10 or more points in nine straight games, averaging 23.3 points in that span.
Included are games of 29, 33 (a career high), 26 and 30 points, three of which were Mesa State victories. His 26-point performance last Friday was one-upped by Nebraska-Kearney’s Chris Deans, who broke out for 35 points.
“Players get on a streak like that, there’s nothing you can do,” he said. “When the basket’s that big to him ... nine straight shots, contested. It’s not like he was open.”
Mathews, who played at Legacy High School in Broomfield, transferred to Mesa State in 2005 from Barstow (Calif.) Community College and sat out his first year because of knee surgery. He started every game as a sophomore and averaged 7.8 points a game. He
brought instant offense off the bench most of last season, averaging 12.6 points a game.
He’s one of three Mavs to have started every game this season, along with center Kurt Bangle and guard Jase Herl.
With the Mavs’ motion offense, it’s not a matter of going from Point A to Point B to Point C.
It’s a matter of reading what the defense is doing and reacting to the screens your teammates are setting.
“It’s really hard to defend this offense. There’s no set motion or set screens you have to use,” Mathews said. “You just read your defender and go off it. (My teammates) do a really good job setting screens, multiple screens. There are times I’ll get three screens coming across.”
Mathews is shooting 46 percent from the field, 38.8 percent from the 3-point line and 85.5 percent from the free-throw line. When he’s feeling it, it doesn’t matter where the new 3-point line is on the floor.
“All shooters need to get into a rhythm,” he said. “A key for me is the free-throw line. If you watch the ball go through the net a few times, you really get into a rhythm. Then you feel it and any shot, you can make. It’s just confidence.”
He’s not one to just run around the perimeter coming off screens, though. Just when a defense thinks that’s what he’s going to do, Mathews will slash into the paint and take on the big guys. There, he can dish off to an open man, hit a reverse layup or draw the foul and get to the line.
“I learned quick in junior college, you play with 6-11, 7-footers, when you get in there, you’ve got to create contact,” he said. “I love the contact, going to the rim. I don’t mind going to the rim. When you penetrate, it opens up the shot because they have to back off you. A one-dimensional player is easy to guard.”
And when it comes to guarding someone, Mathews can hold his own. He’ll never be the guy who draws the toughest assignment but his defense has improved leaps and bounds.
“It’s come miles from where it used to be,” Mesa State coach Jim Heaps said. “Ryan’s figured out how to defend, and once you figure it out, it becomes pretty easy. He puts himself in the right place all the time. He’s not the quickest or the best athlete out there, but he’s always in the right place. If you’ll do that, you can be a good defensive player.”
Mathews, who graduates in May with a degree in kinesiology with a minor in business, remembers when he was a shoot-now, play-defense-later guy.
“I remember when I first came here, one of the first practices, I got yelled at a little bit,” he said. “I came from junior college, where you don’t play defense. It’s 110-108 at the end of the game.
“It takes a lot to learn to play the way (Heaps) wants us to play. It’s more heart and effort than it is skill. A lot of offensive players don’t want to do the dirty work, they just want to score.”