Mavs’ big man Stephan comes up big
Ryan Stephan is ready to become the inside presence the Colorado Mesa men’s basketball team needs.
The Mavericks kept feeding the 6-foot-10 sophomore center the ball Friday night and he rewarded the team with a career-high 25 points in the Mavericks’ 74-61 victory over Chadron State in each teams’ RMAC opener at Brownson Arena.
He also led the team with eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
“Coach has been talking to me the past couple weeks (that) I need to assert myself,” Stephan said. “I’m usually the biggest guy on the floor and I needed to post harder. I really took that to heart. I know I’m young, but I’m ready to step up and be that guy. I need to work harder earlier, move my feet and stay low.”
Landon Vermeer added 12 points and Carlos Perez scored 10.
Christopher Smith led Chadron State with 13 points. Evan Brooks scored 12 and Zac Bargen had 10.
“He’s really skilled kid,” CMU coach Andy Shantz said of Stephan. “To find someone his size with really good hands, feet and touch is hard at our level. The biggest thing with Ryan is consistency of effort on the defensive end.
“He’s done nothing but just get better and better. When he’s bringing that (effort) it’s nice to go to him on the other end of the floor because he’s a tough matchup for people.”
Stephan was a particularly tough matchup for the Eagles.
“We thought we had an advantage in the post,” Shantz said. “That’s the thing, we present some problems there for them, but they present some problems for us on the perimeter. That’s an extremely athletic team, and with the new rules, it’s a hard team to stay in front of. Luckily our guys did a good enough job.”
Stephan drew several fouls and scored 11 of his points at the foul line, hitting 11 of 14 free throws, including seven of 10 in the second half.
“I struggled last week at the free-throw line,” Stephan said. “I made that a mental note in practice this week. I stayed late and shot extra. If you know you’re a good free-throw shooter, you’ll step up with confidence and knock them down. That’s what I need to keep doing.”
The Mavericks shot nearly as many free throws (40) as field goals (44). Mesa made 32 of 40 from the line (80 percent).
“That was the best thing about tonight is we shot the ball well,” Shantz said. “We got there a lot and shot it well. We have some good shooters. We had a couple tough games there at home, but it doesn’t surprise me we shot 80 percent from the line. I think this team is capable of doing that consistently.”
Colorado Mesa (3-2, 1-0 RMAC) leaned on its shooters to get off to a good start.
The Mavericks hit their first three 3-pointers and led 11-4, forcing Chadron to take an early timeout. Landon Vermeer hit two and Jon Orr made the other.
“What happens with that (is) you start feeling good from the 3-point line and you kind of forget going inside,” Shantz said.
“At halftime, we really made it a point to say let’s attack the paint and play off our post players. Ryan stepped up and did a great job.”
Chadron State (3-2, 0-1 RMAC) cut the Mavs’ lead to six with 2:47 left in the first half, but Mesa went on a 6-0 run for a 38-29 lead.
The Eagles hit a couple of 3-pointers early in the second half to cut Mesa’s lead to five again, but the Mavericks started pounding the ball inside to keep Chadron in their rearview mirror.
“The second half we wanted to go into the post, but they stuck their first couple 3s,” Shantz said. “They shot the ball well from the 3-point line. They kept answering every time we tried to pull away. That’s a testament to their kids and their toughness.”
The Mavericks host Black Hills State (3-1, 1-0 RMAC) at 7:30 tonight. The Yellow Jackets beat Western State 81-66 on Friday.