Metro rides quick start to win over Mesa
DENVER — Coming into Auraria Event Center on Friday evening, the Colorado Mesa University men’s basketball team needed the hot hand early in order to hang with No. 4 Metro State.
The Mavericks also had to hope the Roadrunners weren’t playing at their best, but less than five minutes into the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Shootout semifinal it was apparent this would be Metro State’s night. The regular-season champions knocked down their first six attempts from the field and led 15-4 before CMU could catch its breath.
“That’s happened to us before. We’ve been down before, but they just never let up,” Mavericks coach Jim Heaps said after the Roadrunners ended Colorado Mesa’s run with a 93-64 rout. “You could just tell that they were really focused coming in tonight. That was a team that was on a mission, and they came in hitting on all cylinders.”
Metro State (26-2) advanced to tonight’s Shootout title game against Fort Lewis, which edged Adams State 70-69. The Roadrunners shot nearly 57 percent from the field on the evening, going 7 of 13 from 3-point range and a more impressive 26 of 29 from the free-throw line.
The Mavericks (18-10) couldn’t recover from their first-half struggles where they shot only 39 percent and fell behind by 20 points.
“At the beginning of the game we had our chances. We had our shots,” Mavs senior Jeff Hart said. “We just didn’t hit our shots. We scored like nine points in the first 10 minutes, and they scored 30. That was kind of it right there … we never really recovered.”
Jonathan Morse, the RMAC player of the year, led four Metro players in double figures with 21 points. Brandon Jefferson added 19 points, Mitch McCarron contributed 17 and Demetrius Miller chipped in with 12.
Hart and Colton Burgon paced Colorado Mesa with 15 points apiece, and junior Shawn King came off the bench to add a season-high 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
“Metro is just playing so well right now. I thought they played an outstanding game of basketball from start to finish,” Heaps said. “I told our kids I didn’t think we played that bad.”
Morse scored seven of his team’s first 15 points, and McCarron and Jefferson each drained early 3-pointers to give Metro State a 17-4 cushion. A Paul Walter 3-pointer pulled CMU within 10 points, but the Roadrunners hit six of their next eight attempts.
Colorado Mesa struggled to penetrate the Roadrunners’ interior defense, and when the Mavericks worked the ball around the perimeter, Metro State was quick to the ball each time to prevent open looks at the basket.
“They were pushing us out of our offense a bit. We like to run it closer to the paint, and we like to attack the rim,” Hart said. “They do that to everybody. They push them out and get them out 10, 12 feet behind the 3-point line.”
Even with shooting at a 47 percent clip in the second half, the Mavs couldn’t make any headway. Unlike the regular-season meeting Jan. 25 in Grand Junction, where CMU made some strides in the second half, the Roadrunners never let Colorado Mesa back in the game Friday.
“That’s just athletic. There’s days, there’s games where you play better than others,” Heaps said. “In that game we got down 13 at halftime, and then we came out and played much better in the second half and were able to make a run at it. They just played at a much higher level tonight than they did that night.”
With the Mavericks not cracking the top 10 in the regional rankings, the loss likely ended the team’s season. Hart, Burgon and his brother, Chandler, are the team’s only seniors, a group that Heaps called “tremendous.”
Colton Burgon, the team’s lone first-team all-conference selection, said he has nothing but good memories to take with him.
“Just the experiences we’ve had is what we’ll look back on,” Burgon said. “I wouldn’t trade any of those guys for any other guys. This situation we were in tonight at halftime, I wanted to be with these guys to try and come back and make a run at it, but it didn’t happen.”