Mesa State loses another RMAC Shootout opener

Mesa State College’s Michael Dominguez loses the ball as he takes a shot Tuesday night in the first round of the RMAC Shootout at Brownson Arena. Roman Van Allen, right, knocks the ball away in the ThunderWolves’ 73-65 upset over the top-seeded Mavericks.

There’s something about the first round of the RMAC Shootout that just doesn’t work for the Mesa State College men’s basketball team.

The past five times the Mavericks have reached the tournament, they’ve lost. It hasn’t mattered whether the Mavericks were home or on the road, they simply have not been able to get to the final four.

Tuesday night, for the second straight season, CSU-Pueblo came into Brownson Arena and upset the Mavs 73-65, ending Mesa State’s quest to win the RMAC regular season and conference tournament.

“We seemed really flat coming out and we were horribly flat in the second half,” Mesa State coach Jim Heaps said. “I mean, we had no energy whatsoever. That’s as bad of a 1-through-10 effort, as far as every single player was just completely out of it.

“I obviously did a horrible job getting us prepared to play. The last (five) years, geez, we can’t get past the first round.”

Mesa State, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, came out flat and could never really get going against the ThunderWolves, a team they beat 80-71 last weekend at Brownson.

As the No. 2 team in the Central Region — a new poll will be released today — the Mavericks are still in good shape as far as a spot in the national playoffs, but had they won the RMAC tournament, they had a chance to host the regional. Now they not only will be on the road, but they’ll surely drop in the final poll, which comes out Sunday night.

Despite not playing well in the first half, the Mavericks led 32-29, thanks to a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Justin Ashbaugh.

Normally, a big shot at the end of the half helps Mesa State take control in the second half.

Not Tuesday.

Four turnovers in the first two minutes allowed CSU-Pueblo to score seven straight points and take a 36-32 lead. Michael Dominguez, who was often triple-teamed, hit a pair of free throws. On the Mavs’ next possession, Jase Herl tried to drive to the paint but lost the handle on the ball.

“We didn’t even get a shot off,” Heaps said. “I don’t know, we have to be more patient, we’ve got to be smarter and better with the ball.”

The ThunderWolves turned it back to the Mavs as Heaps motioned for them to calm down.

A 3-pointer by Brian Kenshalo, a layup by Herl and then a steal by Ryan Mortensen and a two-on-one break, with Herl finishing, gave the Mavericks a 41-39 lead four minutes into the half.

CSU-Pueblo, though, shot 69.6 percent (16 of 23) in the second half, executing its offense and finding open players, whether they were coming off screens or driving the lane.

“If you let them be comfortable and bounce ... you have to get into them,” Heaps said. “When we are a soft defensive team, teams shoot 70 percent against us. When we get after people, teams have a hard time. Obviously we just did not get after people.”

Senior guard Roman Van Allen was 7 for 9 in the second half and finished with 24 points to extend his career and the ThunderWolves’ season.

“Once we started making shots, your confidence goes up, and when your confidence goes up, we got the W,” Van Allen said.

A three-point play by Lance Fite, who led Mesa State (22-5) with 19 points, broke a 41-41 tie with 15:30 to play, but a Pueblo free throw, followed by another Mesa State turnover, led to a coast-to-coast driving layup by Marc Williams and tie the game again with 14:51 to play.

Mesa State never led again.

The ThunderWolves (17-10), who play Metro State on Friday at the Colorado State Fair Events Center in Pueblo, built a 10-point lead with 4:04 to play.

Mesa State got it to two points, 67-65, when Herl hit a pair of free throws, but Williams hit an open layup for a 69-65 lead.

With Eberhart urging his club not to give up a 3-pointer, Herl took a 3 from the corner that was right on line.

“Missed it!” Eberhart said as it rattled half-way down and back out, and the Mavericks had to foul to stop the clock.

They only had three team fouls with a minute to play, so they couldn’t get the ThunderWolves to the line until there were 15 seconds left, and Pueblo hit four free throws to seal it.

“They just played harder about every possession than we did,” Heaps said. “They’re a good team and if they’re going to play harder than we are, they’re gonna have a chance to win it, and they did.”


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