Mesa men win tough battle against Metro
Teams just don’t beat Metro State twice in one season.
“Well, we never have,” Mesa State men’s basketball coach Jim Heaps said Sunday night after the Mavericks (8-0, 4-0 RMAC) did what teams don’t do, beating the No. 15 Roadrunners 80-77 at Brownson Arena. It was their second win over the perennial RMAC power this season.
Metro State (6-2, 3-1 RMAC) leads the series 16-8, but Mesa has now won four of the past five meetings and is 5-4 at home against the Roadrunners.
“It helps playing them here,” Heaps said. “It was kind of a weird game. The kids just hung around and hung in there.”
It also helps having a veteran team that knows when to get tough on defense, like the Mavericks did in the second half.
“They’re so tough off the dribble,” Heaps said of Metro. “We were so soft on the dribble because we didn’t want to get beat off the dribble. They weren’t even getting head and shoulders past us and they were getting to within six feet in the lane and they shoot that shot so well.
“I told them at halftime, ‘I don’t care what the score ends up or anything else, can we just go out and get after them?’ ‘’
The Mavericks picked up their on-the-ball defensive intensity and allowed Metro to shoot only 39 percent from the field in the second half, and the Roadrunners knocked down only three 3-pointers.
On the other end, the Mavericks, who shot 70 percent from the field in the first half and still trailed by two, hit a dozen 3-pointers, with Brian Kenshalo heating up.
Kenshalo, who led the conference in 3-point shooting last season, started off slow this season, shooting only 27.8 percent from the 3-point line through the first six games.
He hit three of four on Saturday night and was hot from the minute he hit the floor Sunday, draining three straight in the first half and made five of seven in the game for 15 points.
“I felt really good, very comfortable,” Kenshalo said. “(Saturday) night helped, gave me a lot of confidence. We’ve just got to keep this going.”
Neither team could really shake the other, although the Mavericks did build a 74-66 lead when Jase Herl got a steal in the backcourt and went to the rim, making the shot and drawing a foul. He hit the free throw with 4:04 to play, but Metro went on an 8-2 run to pull within two, 76-74.
A.J. Flournoy converted a three-point play on a driving layup with 47.9 seconds to play, giving Metro State a 77-76 lead, and the Mavericks got trapped in the corner and called time with 24.2 seconds left.
“We came down and had a rough possession and took a timeout and talked about, let’s just attack it,” Heaps said. “They don’t want to foul, attack into it and Mike (Dominguez) did and got fouled and knocked down the free throws.”
Dominguez did what he was told, attacking the basket and drawing a foul in the lane. He hit two free throws with 19.2 seconds left for a 78-77 lead, and the Mavs’ experience really paid off on the next defensive possession.
The Roadrunners’ Brian Minor had the ball on the left side of the lane and started to drive. Dominguez was screened on the play, but Justin Ashbaugh switched men on the screen and cut off Minor’s path to the basket.
He lost the ball out of bounds to the Mavericks with 7.7 seconds left.
“That was a great defensive possession after that with the one-point game and we switched on the screen and Justin did a nice job moving his feet and the kid lost it out of bounds,” Heaps said. “That was huge.”
The Mavs inbounded to Dominguez, who was quickly fouled and made both free throws for the three-point lead, which was big when Flournoy’s 3-pointer at the buzzer bounced off the rim.
Dominguez led the Mavericks with 21 points, Lance Fite added 12 and Sean Flohr and Jase Herl 10 each.
The Mavs’ 8-0 start is their best since 2001, when they won seven straight to open the season. That team lost four in a row after the Christmas break — this year’s team has three nonconference games left before the holidays, and they’re going into those games with plenty of confidence.
“We wanted to come out and prove (the first win over Metro) wasn’t a fluke,” Kenshalo said.