On board

Focusing on rebounding helps Mesa men reach semifinals of RMAC Shootout

Mike Melillo’s ability to drive to the basket and to score from anywhere on the court is important for the Mavericks, but it is his ability to grab rebounds that will be key Friday in Mesa’s game at Metro State.

Mike Melillo relaxed Wednesday in one of the seats in the reserved section at Brownson Arena, giving his legs just a couple of more minutes’ rest before practice.

Those legs did plenty of jumping Tuesday night in Pueblo, when the 6-foot-5 sophomore guard grabbed a dozen rebounds for the Colorado Mesa University men’s basketball team.

Those rebounds, plus his eight points, helped the Mavericks extend their season with a 74-65 victory over Colorado State University-Pueblo in the quarterfinals of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Shootout.

“We’ve got to end possessions that way,” Melillo said. “We didn’t want to give them any second chances; we did that enough with our (27) turnovers. Everyone, Paul (Walter) and Colton (Burgon) did a great job blocking out on their men, and I just went up and got it.”

That’s what Melillo brings to the table, the ability to go up and latch onto rebounds.

“That great timing, where he’s catching it at its highest point,” CMU coach Jim Heaps said. “There were a couple last night that were above the rim. You could see it from our angle, he was higher than the rim.”

Rebounding was a point of emphasis for the Mavericks after being beaten badly on the boards during the final weekend of the regular season. Against Adams State, the Mavericks gave up 18 offensive rebounds in a 75-68 loss.

Both Adams State and Fort Lewis have bigger post players than the Mavericks, as does Mesa’s semifinal opponent Friday night, Metro State, the fourth-ranked team in NCAA Division II.

“You’ve gotta be physical on the blockout,” Heaps said. “If I step and make contact and the guy goes over my back, then I’ll get the call. If I just try to jump with him, that’s what was happening. The kids were trying to rebound, but they weren’t blocking out, and we were giving up too much size.”

That’s where Melillo makes a difference. At 6-5, his long limbs help him play even bigger than he is, plus he has a quick first step and can jump out of the gym.

Usually, his man is heading back on defense when the shot goes up, so Melillo often has a clear path to the basket.

“We’re undersized at a lot of positions, and we’re under-athletic at some positions,” Heaps said. “He’s that one player we feel we have who is an elite athlete with the jumping and those things. We have good athletes, but he’s kind of that elite athlete.”

Only a sophomore, Melillo averages 10.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. There will be nights he’ll go off for 18 points, as he did against Metro State, a 64-52 loss when the Roadrunners were ranked No. 1 in the nation, and there will be quiet nights, like when he scored three points against Colorado Christian.

“That whole ‘you’ve gotta give me another reason to have you on the court’ thing, he personifies,” Heaps said. “There are so many things he can do that don’t have anything to do with scoring. Yeah, he can score inside and outside, but he can also rebound, he can defend, he can do other things because of his talent that are special.

“That’s the biggest thing he can bring. Don’t get down because you aren’t scoring. He had eight points last night, but those 12 rebounds were huge.”

Melillo understands that.

“It’s kind of the same way for everyone on our team, the way we play on offense,” he said. “Some guys are going to score more than others one night, and the others need to find something to do to contribute, whether that’s taking a charge, taking care of the ball, just find something to help the team out.”

The Mavericks (17-9) aren’t in the top 10 in the South Central Region rankings this week — eight receive bids Sunday to the playoffs — so they have to play their way in on the Roadrunners’ home court.

“We’re going in very confident,” Melillo said. “They’re not much different than they were last year, and neither are we, and we went in there and beat them (67-63 in overtime in the quarterfinals at Metro). We think we can do the same thing.”

The Mavericks lost the Shootout title game to Colorado Mines and were left out of the North Central Region tourney.

They like being underdogs on the road, and against the top-seeded Roadrunners (25-2), that’s exactly what they are.

“At least we control it,” Heaps said of the regional chances. “We get a shot. All you can ask for right now is to give yourself a shot, go out and prove it for 40 minutes and see what happens.”


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