Mavericks’ late rally falls just short

The Colorado Mesa men’s basketball team rallied to take the lead with 38 seconds left, but couldn’t hold on to it.

Fort Lewis made six free throws down the stretch to defeat the Mavericks 84-80 on Saturday night at Whalen Gym in Durango. Mesa dropped its final two regular-season games to finish in eighth place in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference standings. The Mavericks will play RMAC regular-season champion and No. 1-ranked Metro State in the first round of the RMAC Shootout at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the Auraria Events Center in Denver.

“It was a tough weekend,” CMU coach Andy Shantz said. “The kids really competed. We didn’t play well early enough in game. Tonight we defended well but we couldn’t keep them off the line and we didn’t rebounded well.”

The Mavericks (13-13, 11-11 RMAC) committed 19 fouls and Fort Lewis made them pay, hitting 30 of 36 free throws in the game. The Skyhawks hit all six attempts in the final 30 seconds.

The Skyhawks (17-9, 14-8 RMAC) dominated the boards with 40 rebounds, including 14 on offense.

“That was disappointing,” Shantz said. “We have a much bigger team and a good rebounding team. They were quick to the ball.”

Colorado Mesa center Ryan Stephan matched Fort Lewis center Alex Herrera basket for basket throughout the game.

Both players finished with a game-high 22 points and seven rebounds.

“I think they are the two best post players in the league,” Shantz said.

Jerry Duckworth scored a career-high 18 points for Mesa. He hit three 3-pointers, including one with 1:18 left to get Mesa within one point after trailing by as many as 19 points early in the second half.

Then Landon Vermeer stole the ball and scored a layup to give the Mavericks a 79-78 lead with 38 seconds left.

“Our kids kept competing, and we hit some shots,” Shantz said. “We started attacking the basket and playing through the post.”

Fort Lewis guard Nick Tomsick drew a foul on Mike Melillo and hit both free throws for an 80-79 lead.

Melillo missed a jumper on the next possession, Fort Lewis guard Mike Matthews was fouled on the rebound and hit two free throws with eight seconds left. Matthews hit two more to seal the victory.

Mesa had a better start Saturday night than it did Friday before the Skyhawks went on a 15-0 run for a 21-10 lead with 12:54 left in the first half. Fort Lewis hit three 3-pointers during the run.

“Their pressured bothered us a little bit,” Shantz said. “If we executed better we’d be fine. At this level, we’ve got to do it for 40 minutes.”

The Skyhawks pushed the lead to 17 points and led by 15 at halftime.

Fort Lewis came out strong to start the second half and led
58-39 with 12:09 left in regulation.

Despite the loss, Shantz is confident the Mavericks can play well against Metro State.

Colorado Mesa hung with Metro State (25-1, 22-0 RMAC) until late in the only meeting this season before the Roadrunners pulled away for an 86-76 victory.

“They are the No. 1 team in the nation for a reason,” Shantz said. “We played well there last time. We need to come ready to play and do it for 40 minutes. When we do, we’re tough to beat. Got to be focused and ready to play.”


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