Mathews’ shooting touch lifts Mavs past Mustangs

Jase Herl of Mesa gets off a shot past the block of WNM Steve Berrelleza

The play might change from year to year, but the call is still the same: Blackjack.

It’s what the Mesa State College men’s basketball team runs when the clock’s running down at the end of the first half — or even at the end of a tie game.

This season, the play has been pretty simple: Get the ball to Ryan Mathews and set a screen when he’s ready to go.

“In the past we’ve never tried to do anything, just run motion to run it down under five (seconds) and get a shot, but what we’ve gone to recently is get the ball in Ryan’s hands, let him run it down and he can either shoot it or penetrate and kick,” Mesa State coach Jim Heaps said. “We give him the decision making process and it seems to make us better.”

Thursday night when Heaps called Blackjack, Mathews got the ball at the top of the key with about 10 seconds to play in the first half and the game tied 36-36.

Mathews then did what he does best, hitting a clutch 3-pointer with six-tenths of a second left, giving the Mavs the momentum in an 86-77 RMAC victory over Western New Mexico.

“It’s supposed to be a high screen and roll and they keep doubling off it, so tonight I faked it and went the other way,” Mathews said. “It’s supposed to be a penetration, but they’re sagging off.”

Mathews scored 13 of Mesa State’s final 19 points of the first half and ended up with 27.

Mesa State, which shot only three free throws in the first half, made 13 of 18 in the second and built what seemed to be a comfortable 21-point lead midway through the second half when Mathews was fouled on a 3-point attempt and hit all three free throws.

Heaps told the Mavs to keep running to help wear down the Mustangs, whose starters play more than 30 minutes a game.

“We were wanting them to keep running and I think the kids hear, now we can shoot early,”
Heaps said. “You want to probe, you want to look for fast-break opportunities, but then if it’s not there, you run offense. We just started shooting jump shots.”

Some deep 3-pointers by Steve Berrelleza allowed the Mustangs (8-14, 4-10 RMAC) to climb back into the game.

They hit the magical 70-point mark that most teams haven’t been able to get to recently.

Mesa State hadn’t won a game this season when the opponent scored 70 or more points.

When Berrelleza hit a 3 with 1:04 to play, the Mavs’ lead had dwindled to only five, 79-74, and after a timeout, the Mustangs set up their full-court press.

The Mavericks found Sean Flohr alone under the basket. He was fouled with 47.8 seconds left and hit both free throws.

“Oh, yeah, that little 9-year-old inside me who shot all those years ago, I definitely fall back on that,” Flohr said of his two national free-throw shooting titles when he was growing up.

The junior guard had another big night off the bench with 18 points. The big men, Jake Swartzendruber and Kurt Bangle, had 11 points each.

Flohr also made the defensive play of the night.

Stefan Mirabel’s pump-fake allowed him to get a step on Flohr, but the junior guard used his long arms to block Mirabel’s shot from behind with 30 seconds left.

“A lot of times I give people trouble on the perimeter because of my length,” said Flohr, who is 6-foot-5 and has extremely long arms. “I was fortunate to get a block and get out for an open layup.”

For a split second he thought about throwing down a crowd-pleasing dunk, but thought better of it. After all, he’s been nursing a bad back all season.

“I thought about it, but I didn’t want to pull something stupid and cost us the game,” he said.

“ Especially with my back, if I fall on that, that would be all she wrote.”


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