Mavs cut down nets: Mesa State men wrap up RMAC in win over CSU-Pueblo
The chant started in the students’ “Herd” section with one minute remaining.
“R-MAC cha-amps ... R-MAC cha-amps.”
Forward Lance Fite was urging them on from the bench.
“We found out with about two minutes left that (Colorado) Mines lost,” Fite said. “We just had to hit free throws at the end to wrap it up. This feels awesome.”
On the court, the RMAC men’s basketball champions couldn’t help but smile, just for a couple of seconds, because there was still work to do.
First was to put the finishing touches on Mesa State’s 80-71 victory over CSU-Pueblo at sold-out Brownson Arena.
“(Associate head coach Andy) Shantz called me over in the last minute and told me Mines lost, we’re conference champs,” Michael Dominguez said. “I went running over to tell Jase (Herl) and the guys. I’m so happy to be part of this with these guys.”
Then there was the matter of cutting down the nets, one of the goals the 23rd-ranked Mavericks set so many months ago.
“We had talked about it and I didn’t know if cutting down the net was what we wanted to do,” head coach Jim Heaps said. “The administration said it and Andy said it, they’re just so hard to come by, a conference championship in this conference in this day and age is so hard to come by.
“The fact that these kids accomplished that, I think it’s important that they have the opportunity to cut the net down.”
Shantz was the first one up the ladder and Heaps snipped the final string and raised the net, smiling as he climbed down the ladder and huddled with his team.
It’s the first conference championship since 1999 for the men’s program, but the celebration only lasted a few minutes.
“Oh yeah,” Herl said when asked if winning the title felt as good as he thought it would. But in the same breath, “We’ve still got a long ways to go, though. We’ve got a big game (tonight) and we’ve got to win it.”
Herl returned to the starting lineup after a three-game absence because of a sprained right ankle, and the energy returned with him.
“Jase gives us so much,” Dominguez said. “Just the confidence he gives us. I felt good on the court because I know he’s there with me. I’m so happy he’s back.”
Herl scored 11 of his 13 points at the free-throw line, grabbed nine rebounds and had four assists in 30 minutes.
“He’s just kind of our ... mojo, I guess is what you’d say,” Heaps said of Herl. “He’s kind of our swagger. Everybody gets back into their role. When we have all the pieces, like we’ve been saying from the start, that whole is so much greater than the individual pieces.
“When we have all that together, we’re a pretty good basketball team. When one of those pieces if missing you can just tell, we don’t play as well.”
Fite led Mesa State (21-3, 15-3 RMAC) with 17 points, Dominguez added 14 and Justin Ashbaugh 12.
The Mavs shot 52.5 percent from the field and built the lead to 19 midway through the second half before the ThunderWolves (15-10, 10-8) made a late run.
CSU-Pueblo will return to Grand Junction on Tuesday for the first round of the RMAC Shootout, a rematch of last season’s first round, when the ThunderWolves upended Mesa State. A few days later, the Mavericks learned they were passed over for a spot in the regional tourney.
“They’re going to come back hungry as heck, I know that,” Fite said.
The Mavericks, though, are hungry to make the trip to Pueblo for the semifinals of the conference tournament.
“It can bother you or it can not bother you, it ain’t gonna make a difference,” Heaps said. “You still have to play the same team, so our key is showing up and playing as well Tuesday as we did today.”