Mesa men win RMAC West opener against CSU-Pueblo

PHOTO BY DANIELLE STOMBERG—Mesa State’s Ryan Mathews brings one to the basket during Thrusday night’s game against CSU Pueblo at Brownson Arena.

Jase Herl takes pride in his defense and his rebounding.

The 6-foot-3 junior guard showed off both Thursday night at Brownson Arena — and threw in plenty of offense as well, helping the Mesa State College men’s basketball team start off RMAC West Division play with a 65-61 victory over CSU-Pueblo.

Herl, as always, drew the toughest defensive assignment, guarding Rome Smith. The ThunderWolves’ leading scorer averages nearly 18 points a game, but had one point at halftime and finished with nine on 2-of-10 shooting (he hit 4 of 8 free throws) before fouling out.

Mission No. 1 accomplished.

Herl spent much of his energy early on working to keep Smith under wraps, but grabbed every crucial rebound down the stretch as the Mavericks (7-9,4-4 RMAC) rallied from 10 points down.

With a team-high nine boards, mission No. 2 accomplished.

“That’s something, if guards can rebound, it helps out the big guys,” Herl said. “A lot of times they’re pushed under and if you come in off the top, you can see it better, so I just try to come in and help them out and get every rebound I can.”

Then there was the matter of helping Ryan Mathews in the scoring column.

“We just play off each other,” Herl said. “We don’t have anything run for each other, we’re a team in every sense of the word. We try to get each other open. One night it’s Ryan, one night it’s Kurt (Bangle), Jake (Swartzendruber), me, Aaron (Markham). It doesn’t matter as long as we win, and that’s what we did tonight.”

Back-to-back 3-pointers to open the game had him well on his way to a bonus mission and a game-high 25 points, including hitting 10 of 12 from the free-throw line, all but two in the second half.

“I thought Jase obviously, that was as good a game as he’s played this year,” Mesa State coach Jim Heaps said.

The ThunderWolves (7-9, 4-4 RMAC) were knocking down contested 3-pointers early, too, and had a 3-point lead at halftime thanks to their transition offense. The Mavericks tried to force the ball inside either by passing to Bangle or penetrating, but the T-Wolves’ quick hands knocked the ball out several times and fed their break.

Once the Mavs figured that out, they moved the ball on the perimeter and found their shots, taking it inside when they could.

Part of that was thanks to Mathews and Herl penetrating and finding one another once the ballhandler drew the attention of the defense.

CSU-Pueblo led 50-44 with 13:25 to play, but the Mavericks’ defense allowed the ThunderWolves to score only 11 points the rest of the way.

Mesa State, though, attacked by penetrating and getting to the free-throw line, especially Herl, who made six of eight in the final 5:38.

“They shot so well the first half that they were in a nice flow,” Heaps said. “I felt like our kids set a tone defensively in the second half.”

That tone was allowing the ThunderWolves to shoot only 35 percent from the field after hitting nearly 54 percent of their shots in the first half.

Mathews and Markham teamed up for a steal with 2:37 left and Mathews drove hard to the basket and was fouled, sprawling to the floor.

He was rubbing his right shoulder at the free-throw line, where he made one of two then was fouled again with 1:53 left and made two, still trying to work the soreness out of his shoulder.

Mathews, whose double-figure scoring streak ended at 10 games last weekend, got right back at it, scoring 18 for the Mavs, who play New Mexico Highlands at 8 tonight.


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