Mavs rally past Pueblo

Colorado Mesa center Ryan Stephan hits a jumper over CSU-Pueblo’s Matt Rosenbaum on Sunday night in the final game of the Holiday Inn-Airport Thanksgiving Classic at Brownson Arena.

They trailed for nearly the entire basketball game, but the Colorado Mesa Mavericks didn’t let up.

The Mavericks, who trailed for 38 of the game’s 40 minutes Sunday night, overcame a 14-point deficit in the second half to defeat CSU-Pueblo 79-77 in the Holiday Inn-Airport Thanksgiving Classic at Brownson Arena.

“We are a resilient group,” CMU junior guard Mike Melillo said. “We kept coming after them. Coach got on us, but we picked each other up and pulled through.”

Melillo hit two 3-pointers in the final two minutes and finished with his second consecutive double-double of the season. He scored 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. He also led Mesa with five assists.

Landon Vermeer led Mesa with 16 points. Joe Kiely scored 14 and Ryan Stephan added 12.

“The kids were resilient,” CMU coach Andy Shantz agreed. “We’ve got some stuff we need to shore up, but we’re defending well. Hopefully we made some progress.”

Colorado Mesa (2-2) turned the ball over 16 times and gave up 15 offensive rebounds, but shot 58.8 percent from the floor and limited CSU-Pueblo (2-2) to 40.3 percent shooting in the non-conference game.

The Mavericks had a particular problem with CSU-Pueblo’s guards, specifically point guard Nate Tigner, who led the ThunderWolves with 19 points and four assists.

“Their guards played well,” Shantz said. “Their point guard, we had a hard time staying in front of him. He penetrated our defense consistently.

“We play gap defense for a reason. He’s a talented kid. He’s athletic. Those left-handed players are different. It takes a while to adjust to them.”

CSU-Pueblo put pressure on the Mavericks from the onset, forcing three turnovers in the first four minutes. The ThunderWolves grabbed offensive rebounds, scored put-backs and made free throws for an early 16-5 lead.

Mesa cut it to three midway through the first half, but the ThunderWolves responded to push their lead back up to 11 and led 43-37 at halftime. The Mavericks have trailed at halftime in all four of their games this season.

CSU-Pueblo took its largest lead of the game midway through the second half when Tigner stole a Mesa pass then fed Wendell Lee for a thunderous dunk and a 64-50 lead.

The Mavericks’ guards answered back, especially Vermeer, who scored 11 points in the final nine minutes of the game to spark Mesa’s rally.

“That’s what Landon can do,” Shantz said. “He’s one of the best pure shooters I’ve seen. The guys were looking for him. “Landon got us back in the game.”

Vermeer hit a pair of 3-pointers to get Mesa within five.

“The guys found me in the right spots,” Vermeer said. “There is no rhyme or reason who goes off. We’re unselfish and look for the open guy. We have so many shooters. Anyone can hit shots. That makes it fun.”

With CSU-Pueblo’s defense tightening on Vermeer, Melillo caught fire, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers to get Mesa within one point at 77-76.

“Landon is a great shooter,” Melillo said. “You give him an inch and he’ll knock it down. That’s what got me open. Everyone’s a willing passer.”

CSU-Pueblo shot an airball on its next possession, then pressed the Mavs out of a timeout. Once Mesa got into its motion offense, Carlos Perez hit a jumper in the corner for its first lead since 1-0 with 24 seconds left.

Melillo hit one free throw for a two-point lead, then Kiely blocked Tigner’s layup attempt on the final play.

“I was hard on Joe all game, but he might have made the biggest play of the game,” Shantz said.


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