Michael Skinner takes great pride in his defense.
The senior guard for the Colorado Mesa men’s basketball team always draws the toughest defensive assignment, and Friday night made one of the biggest plays of his career in the Mavericks’ 60-58 come-from-behind victory over Metro State.
With the Mavericks down 58-57 to Metro State and less than 20 seconds to play, Skinner positioned himself between Maris Colton and Garrett Carter as Colton attempted to hand the ball off to his teammate.
Instead, Skinner jumped the lane, stole the ball, circled around Colton and raced down the floor. When he got into the lane, he Euro-stepped around a defender for a layup with 12 seconds left.
That gave the Mavs a 59-58 lead and after Carter missed a 3-pointer on the other end, Tommy Nuno grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He made the first of the two-shot foul with five seconds left, and Mesa’s defense challenged Demetrius Jackson just enough that his desperation 3 at the horn fell well short.
The victory snapped a three-game losing streak to the Roadrunners (5-4, 1-2 RMAC) and once again showed the grit of the Mavericks (6-3, 2-1).
After racing to a 12-2 lead, CMU was down 28-24 at halftime and had to claw back the first 11 minutes of the second half, using a variety of lineups.
The Mavericks went to a five-guard lineup at times, and then brought Clay Verk back into the game midway through the second half. He not only gave them some added size on the offensive side, but also helped Mesa challenge Metro’s ability to get to the rim.
He scored inside and then drew a foul and made a pair of free throws to put Mesa up 44-41 with 9:37 remaining, but Metro built the lead back to six points over the next 2 1/2 minutes.
Jared Small, who spent his freshman season as a redshirt at Metro, made two free throws and a 3-pointer in transition to pull the Mavericks within one point, 51-50, and after Colton scored inside, Small hit another 3 to tie it with 5:35 remaining.
A CMU turnover led to a Metro layup and a three-point lead, 58-55, but Skinner came up with a steal and a breakaway layup with 3:48 left, cutting the Metro lead to 58-57.
Neither team scored again until Skinner’s decisive steal and layup.
Georgie Dancer led the Mavericks with 20 points, Verk added nine and Skinner and Small had eight each.