Mavs inch closer to West basketball title

LAS VEGAS, N.M. — It was so loud when Jake Swartzendruber was shooting his free throws with seven seconds left Friday night, he couldn’t have heard if his heart was racing or his knees were knocking.

A crowd of 2,900 was screaming at the top of its collective lungs and it just got louder when, with an 89-87 lead, Swartzendruber missed the front end of the two-shot foul.

The senior forward, though, netted the second one to give the Mavs a crucial three-point lead, 90-87, and when the Cowboys missed a potential tying 3-pointer with one second left, the Mavs had their victory, despite Mindaugus Markevicus’ tip with 0.5 on the clock.

“I thought both teams just played great,” Mesa State coach Jim Heaps said. “Their team played an unbelievable game of basketball and our kids played a great game. It was one of those where they ran out of time and our kids held on. It could have gone either way. Tip your hat to them, they’re a very good basketball team.”

The win vaulted the Mavericks into first place in the RMAC West Division with one game remaining, tonight at CSU-Pueblo.

Adding in Fort Lewis’ one-point loss Thursday to Western New Mexico and Pueblo’s one-point win Friday over Western State, the Mavericks (16-10, 13-5 RMAC) can clinch the West title and the No. 2 seed in the RMAC Shootout, by winning tonight in Pueblo.

Mesa State has the tiebreaker on Highlands (19-7, 13-5) with the season sweep (by a combined four points) should the two both win tonight.

And as soon as the Mavericks got into the locker room, Heaps reminded them of just that.

“We control our own destiny,” Heaps said. “That’s the key. We’ve got to show up and play tomorrow; we’re playing a very good basketball team.”

It was only the second time this season the Mavericks have hit 90 points — they beat Colorado College 91-51 early in the season.

The Mavericks’ patience and experience paid off down the stretch after they fell behind by seven points with 8:58 to play.

Then again, it didn’t hurt that redshirt freshman Brian Kenshalo was simply unstoppable yet again, scoring a career-high 22 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the 3-point line.

Jase Herl added 16 points and Swartzendruber 11 for Mesa State, which has won 10 of its 11 games in the RMAC West. No win, though, would be bigger than one tonight.

“I told them, ‘You guys want to celebrate now, or you want to celebrate in March like we’ve talked about?’ ’’ Heaps said. “We’ve got more work we have to do.”


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