Strengths turn into weaknesses in Mavs’ loss
DENVER — Jim Heaps loved what he saw offensively from the Colorado Mesa University men’s basketball team Friday against the top-ranked team in Division II.
However, when it came to the Mavericks’ bread and butter, post defense and free-throw shooting, he wasn’t quite as impressed.
“I thought we played good offensive basketball for long stretches,” the Colorado Mesa coach said after those two elements helped Metro State remain undefeated with a 93-78 victory.
“They were making their run and we go 23 of 37 at the free-throw line. The second half we go 15 for 24 and a couple were front ends and we missed like six straight at one point.”
The Mavericks (7-4, 5-2 RMAC) handled Metro’s pressure defense fine, they moved the basketball and attacked the paint. But when the Roadrunners (11-0, 6-0) did just what CMU wanted — foul — the Mavericks didn’t make them pay.
Mesa, which shoots nearly 73 percent from the free-throw line, shot 62.2 percent Friday, and at one point missed five in a row and six of nine.
Wearing an odd uniform combination of maroon jerseys and black shorts, the Mavs were down 11 midway through the second half when that string of free throws rimmed out or banged off the iron.
By the time Jeff Hart made two and Chandler Burgon the back end of a two-shot foul, the Roadrunners had taken that 69-58 lead with 8:42 to play (after a three-point play by Demetrius Miller, who scored 21 points) and pushed it to 79-63 with 5:09 remaining.
“In games like that where they’re opening it up, that’s when we’ve got to score,” Heaps said. “We’ve got to score at the free-throw line. That’s what we do. This is the best free-throw shooting team in the conference and we didn’t shoot free throw well tonight.”
The Mavericks’ maroon uniform shorts were mistakenly left in Grand Junction, and no one realized it until the players went to the locker room to dress for the game. Athletic Director Butch Miller made a quick phone call to the school’s Nike representative in Denver, who met him at a nearby sporting goods store and got enough matching shorts that were in stock.
Earlier in the second half, Reggie Evans showed why he’s the premier player in the RMAC, missing a shot inside, grabbing his own rebound and getting it blocked by Colton Burgon. He simply went up a third time for a basket and a 10-point lead.
Evans had 22 points, but it was the early play of 6-foot-8 junior center Jonathan Morse that set the tone.
Morse finished with 19 points, taking only eight shots. He made six and hit seven of 10 free throws, plus grabbed eight rebounds before fouling out in the final four minutes.
Colton Burgon led the Mavericks with 20 points and Mike Melillo added 11.
“I thought what killed us was their post player in the first half,” Heaps said of Morse. “They established the inside and once they got that established, the second half we couldn’t get stops. We try to help inside and they kick and hit some 3s, repeatedly. We’ve got to make a team one-dimensional. We can’t let them be balanced.”
Morse hit the first two buckets for Metro, Evans the next three, and that inside-outside game was too much for the Mavericks to stop. It was the first time the Mavericks weren’t able to establish things inside defensively this season.
“We can’t get whipped in the paint by anybody, and I really felt like for the first time all year we did,” Heaps said. “We just couldn’t guard him. He hit shots early, hit shots we didn’t know he could make, he hit free throws, he rebounded the basketball. I thought he was the difference and now the other guys can get going and get comfortable.
“I thought they played very, very well. Metro played … I don’t know if anybody beats them tonight.”