Mavericks face daunting task in No. 1 Metro
Colorado Mesa’s men’s basketball team faces a daunting task.
The Mavericks face their conference’s top seed, which just so happens to be the top-ranked team in NCAA Division II.
The Mavericks (13-13) made the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Shootout tournament, but they earned the last spot as the eighth seed. Mesa plays RMAC regular-season champion and No. 1-ranked Metro State (25-1) at 7 p.m. tonight at the Auraria Events Center in Denver.
“We’re not going in there intimidated or anything else,” CMU coach Andy Shantz said. “With that being said, we’ve got to take care of each possession. We’ve got to be ready to play. That’s what’s going to determine if we win or not.”
The Roadrunners, who are on a 22-game win streak, haven’t lost a game since starting conference play. Colorado Mines, the No. 2 seed, came the closest, losing by four, 57-54, in Golden.
The Mavericks have been up and down all season. They are on a two-game losing streak after losing on the road to Adams State and Fort Lewis this past weekend.
Metro State is led by RMAC preseason player of the year Brandon Jefferson. The senior point guard is leading the RMAC in 3-point field goal percentage (.484), free-throw percentage (.924) and steals (2.3 per game). He is second in the RMAC in scoring (21.1 points per game).
“(Jefferson) had a great year,” Shantz said. “He’s the frontrunner, I’m sure, for (RMAC) player of the year. He’s so crafty and has a high basketball IQ. He’s one of those kids even if you do a good job on and you get out of position once, he’ll make you pay every time.”
Junior guard Mitch McCarron and junior center Nicholas Kay give the Roadrunners balance. Each is averaging 15.9 points per game.
The Roadrunners are leading the RMAC in scoring defense (65.2 points per game) and turnover margin with a difference of 5.92 fewer turnovers per game than their opponent. Metro is second in the RMAC with 8.8 steals per game.
“We’ve got to take care of the basketball, and we’ve got to rebound on the defensive end,” Shantz said. “They live on having more possessions than their opponent. When we’ve had success against them in the past, we did those two things. When we don’t, they’re getting extra shots, or we’re turning the ball over.”
Colorado Mesa took care of the ball and rebounded well against the Roadrunners nearly six weeks ago before Metro State rallied in the final nine minutes to defeat the Mavericks 86-76 at the Auraria Events Center. Mesa led 35-31 at halftime and pushed its lead to 12 points with 9:02 left on a Jon Orr 3-pointer. The Roadrunners responded with a 25-2 run to lead 76-65 for their largest lead of the game. The Mavs were 0-for-8 from the floor and had three turnovers during Metro’s run.
“We’re going in way confident,” sophomore point guard Joe Kiely said. “The last time we played them, it was close. We felt we should’ve beat them. I don’t feel like anyone is nervous. We’re more excited.
“It’s exciting to play someone like that. We’ve got to prove everybody wrong.”
The Mavericks faced a similar challenge two years ago when the seventh-seeded Mavs beat No. 2-seed Metro State in the first round of the RMAC tournament at the Auraria Events Center.
“We still have quite a few of those players on the team,” Shantz said. “When we played there this year, it was an extremely competitive game. I think if there is a team in the conference that can go in there and get a win, it’s definitely us.
“We’ve beat the teams three through seven. I think we’re the only team, other than the top two, to do that. We played Metro better than anybody, especially on their floor.
“I feel our guys will go out there and compete. I feel like we can get a win.”
Kiely and the Mavericks aren’t ready for the season to end.
“Nobody wants the season to end,” Kiely said. “A lot of us feel like it’s way too early. We don’t want it to end for the seniors. If there is a way to turn the season around, it’s now or never. Everybody’s more excited than scared.”