Melillo’s dunk helps Mavs edge Chadron
Every time Mike Melillo put up a shot Friday night, it seemed to rim out.
The Colorado Mesa University redshirt freshman struggled, but he kept working.
Finally, he got a shot attempt he couldn’t miss.
After Shawn King picked up a loose ball, he found Melillo open underneath.
“I thought, ‘I’m not going to miss this shot,’ ” Melillo said.
Melillo dunked with 9:43 left in the second half to help the Mavericks defeat Chadron State 76-70 in each team’s RMAC opener at Brownson Arena.
Up until that dunk, Melillo hadn’t made a field goal. In fact, he has struggled shooting the ball the past three games.
Melillo knew he could do other things to help the Mavericks.
“I try to help out my team any way I can,” Melillo said. “There are days your shots aren’t going to fall. You can always rebound and defend with intensity.
“When you get rebounds, you get putbacks and free throws. That opens up for shots.”
Melillo finished with 15 points and had a team-high eight rebounds to complement Michael Bear’s season-high 26 points. He scored 10 at the free-throw line.
Colorado Mesa (3-2, 1-0 RMAC) scored 32 of its 76 points at the foul line, taking advantage of 30 Chadron State fouls. The Mavs made 9 of 11 in the final four minutes.
Melillo wasn’t the only one struggling to score early. Both teams did in the frantic pace of the opening minutes in front of a raucous crowd of Mesa students. The attendance was 933.
Chadron (0-5, 0-1 RMAC) led most of the first half, but the Mavericks pounded the ball inside, drawing 15 fouls and making 12 of 18 free throws.
Both teams struggled shooting the ball. Chadron hit 39 percent. Mesa made 27.6 percent.
“That’s two games in a row now we played really poorly, and it’s just shot selection in the first half,” Mesa coach Jim Heaps said.
“We’ve got to be better at taking shots we have a legit shot at making,” Heaps said. “We’ve got to recognize where we have an advantage.
“We need to get Colton (Burgon) and Mike Bear touches in the post, but we were shooting jump shots instead. It looks to me we have players that are wanting to get going and knock down that first shot. Once you do, you’re off and running. If we run really good offense, the shot will find you.”
It did in the second half.
Mesa scored on four of its first five possessions of the second half to build a 36-28 lead.
Bear led the way, scoring on back-to-back possessions, then hitting a 3-pointer from the corner after a Melillo offensive rebound.
“I thought we did a great job on offense rebounds,” Heaps said. “I thought that kept us in it. We had a bunch of putbacks and got to the foul line. We started hitting some shots and got into a rhythm in the second half.”
Blake Francom tipped in a rebound for a 40-30 lead with 14:50 left, forcing Chadron to take a timeout.
Bear hit a 3-pointer with 12:05 left and was fouled after the shot, officials ruled. Bear hit both free throws for a 49-40 lead.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 5-point play before,” Bear said. “That was huge momentum for us. That’s two possessions they have to make up.”
Mesa forced a turnover and Melillo put it away with a thunderous dunk for a 51-40 lead.
Melillo had a tip-in to push the lead to 13 with 9:43 left. A minute later, he spun off a defender and hit a bank shot off the glass for a 60-47 lead.
Chadron kept fighting, going on a 13-3 run to cut Mesa’s lead to five with 4:52 left after Kevin McClelland hit a 3-pointer.
The Mavericks continued taking the ball to the basket and hit their foul shots down the stretch.
“That’s always been our style,” Heaps said. “We want to shoot a lot more (free throws) than they shoot. You’ve got to keep attacking.”