Mavs’ guards hold key to Metro’s press

PAIR OF POINT GUARDS, Aaron Markham, and Ryan Mortensen, above, have split time running the offense for the Mesa State College men’s basketball team this season. The juniors are veterans when it comes to handling the zone pressure defense run by Metro State, their opponent tonight in Denver.

POINT GUARDS, Aaron Markham, above, and Ryan Mortensen have split time running the offense for the Mesa State College men’s basketball team this season. The juniors are veterans when it comes to handling the zone pressure defense run by Metro State, their opponent tonight in Denver.

Weather the storm.

No, not the storm in the mountains — the one the Mesa State College men’s basketball team will see tonight at Metro State College.

It’s the storm that is the Metro State zone press, which makes it seem like you’re playing 5-on-10 basketball.

So this week in practice, the Mavs did just that, putting a couple of extra players on defense when they worked on breaking the pressure.

The Roadrunners will trap ballhandlers who get tentative and pick up the ball as they look for a teammate. They’ll jump into the gaps if you leave your feet and try to throw a blind pass and they’ll hit layups on the other end.

There are a couple of keys in facing that pressure: Having an experienced team and attacking the zone.

“You have to attack them,” said Mesa State coach Jim Heaps, who’s seen that press more times than he’d like. “You can’t give them free traps, go side-to-side whether it’s full or half-court.

“They’ll push you out to half-court to run your offense if you let them. You’re turning your back and they’re pushing you out. You have to attack them, back them off you. If you don’t, they’ll eat you up.”

Metro State (5-2, 1-1 RMAC) has forced 150 turnovers this season, 15.9 a game. The Mavericks (4-3, 1-1 RMAC) have been prone to turnovers early in the season, averaging 13.8 a game, but have also shown signs of handling pressure with ease.

Part of that is because they’ve got two veteran point guards, Aaron Markham and Ryan Mortensen, a pair of 6-foot juniors.

“Really, it’s just stay calm,” Mortensen said of the key to facing Metro. “They’re a little more athletic, they run their stuff really well. You have to stay calm and pass out of it. It’s nothing we haven’t seen.”

Heaps told the Mavs countless times this week that “You’ve just got to be tough against it. You can’t panic, get that sense of, ‘Oh, no, I’ve got to throw it.’ It’s not a point guard thing, the point guard triggers it, but it has to be a team thing. We’ve got to cut and be receivers and go catch the ball when we throw it. You can’t abandon them, you can’t be tentative. Coach (Andy)
Shantz said this week, you can’t hide behind the Metro defense, you’ve got to cut and withstand the pressure and ball fake.”

Markham, who has been running the Mavs’ offense since his redshirt freshman season, is also a veteran when it comes to facing the Roadrunners.

“The key to beating Metro is taking care of the ball,” said Markham, who helped the Mavs beat the Roadrunners 68-67 last season in Denver. The Mavs turned the ball over 20 times in that game, about twice as many as Heaps likes to see, but they also got to the free-throw line 27 times, hitting 24 to the Roadrunners’ 9 of 20.

“Coach Heaps always preaches under 10 turnovers and you’ll be right there. If you take care of the ball you’re going to get great looks, layups, open 3s, so if we can withstand the pressure, we have a good shot at winning.”

Markham and Mortensen have been fairly interchangeable this season. In fact, they’ve split starts, with Markham starting four games, Mortensen three.

“I haven’t brought too much scoring, but I can score,” said Mortensen, who transferred to Mesa State from Fort Lewis two years ago. “Aaron’s a really smart point guard, he makes good decisions and he plays good defense.”

Mortensen’s biggest problem this season has been staying out of foul trouble.

“I need to quit fouling. I keep getting in foul trouble,” he said. “I could have played well in every game, I’ve been ready to play well, I’ve just been getting into foul trouble too much.”

Heaps agreed, saying that problem has limited Mortensen’s minutes.

“He tries to play so hard and that’s good on one point, but he makes silly fouls,” Heaps said.

“You have to pick and choose your time and be smart how and when you’re going to foul.”

Markham sees his role as making sure the rest of the Mavs are in position to get the points.

“Coach Heaps talks to us about knocking down the open shot when it comes to you within the motion offense,” the junior from Carbondale said. “One night you might get seven, eight looks, the next night one or two. You have to be ready to hit shots. We’re both capable of hitting shots.”

He agreed with Heaps that having a veteran team will help against the Roadrunners, and throughout the season.

“A lot of the guys, Sean (Flohr), Ryan (Mortensen and Mathews), ’Dre (Andre Carter) have all been here a long time,” he said. “You’re able to build chemistry in that time. Junior college and freshmen, it takes a little bit of time. Jase (Herl) has fit in well, but you can’t substitute experience and knowing these guys and their personalities.”


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