Grizzlies, Cowboys to tangle in RMAC Quarterfinals
ASC hoping to take advantage of home-court advantage
ALAMOSA, Colo.— March Madness has come to the San Luis Valley and will get going full steam on the very first day of the month.
After posting identical 19-7 overall and 15-7 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference records and splitting the regular season series, the Adams State College Grizzlies and New Mexico Highlands University Cowboys will clash in unquestionably the biggest game of each team’s season, squaring off in the quarterfinal round of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference shootout, Tuesday night here in Plachy Hall.
Tip-off is slated for approximately 8 p.m. following a 6 p.m. women’s quarterfinal game between the Grizzlies and Mesa State College.
Tuesday’s doubleheader will mark the first time in the Grizzlies’ NCAA Division II era (1992-93/Present) history that both teams will have home play-off games. They will also be just the second such home playoff game for each Grizzly program.
The winner of the men’s game, the first post-season meeting between the squads in the program’s respective Division II era histories, will not only win their 20th game of the season but will also move on to the tournament semifinals to be played Friday afternoon at the Colorado State Fairgrounds Event Center in Pueblo. And although those stakes should be more than enough to get both teams motivated, both teams will also likely be playing for their NCAA Division II Tournament hopes as well.
The Grizzlies, who defeated the Cowboys by a 96-84 count on Jan. 8 in Plachy Hall, posted 12-2 record at home this season and are very eager to get back to their home-court where they have won five straight.
The Cowboys won their home game by a 90-81 score over the Grizzlies on Feb. 4, one of three losses the Grizzlies have suffered in their last four away from home.
And although the teams split their regular season series, the Grizzlies earned the tournament’s fourth seed and the right to host the fifth-seeded Cowboys because of a complicated point system that took the location and winning percentage of each opponent throughout the RMAC season.
Both teams will be hoping to get back to winning ways after dropping their regular-season finales to arch-rivals on Western State, losses that have made Tuesday’s clash even more important from the regional ranking perspective.
The Grizzlies were ranked ninth in last week’s NCAA Division II Central Regional Rankings but claimed an overtime win over seventh-ranked Mesa State on Friday in Grand Junction. The Mavericks in turn then knocked off fourth-ranked Fort Lewis on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies lost as much of a 13-point lead and eventually the game by a 98-96 score in their second overtime contest in as many nights.
That setback ended the Grizzlies’ 5-game winning streak, which was the longest in the RMAC at the time.
Meanwhile, New Mexico Highlands came into last weekend ranked eighth in the region but dropped a 93-83 decision to in-state rival Western New Mexico, which earned the seventh seed in this week’s RMAC Shootout. The Cowboys had won three straight and seven of eight before that and finished the year 11-1 at home but were just 5-6 on the road.
New regional rankings, which will eventually determine the at-large selections and seeding for the Central Regional portion of the NCAA Division II Tournament, will come out Wednesday. However, those rankings will ironically not include Tuesday night’s result.
Tuesday’ contest will be a match-up of the two most prolific scoring teams in the conference. The Cowboys lead the RMAC in scoring offense, averaging 85.1 points per game. However, they also give up 78.3 points per night and rank second from the bottom in the 14-team RMAC in that category.
The Grizzlies are second in the RMAC in scoring offense 80.5 points per game and rank eighth in scoring defense at 73.0 points per game, allowing them to rank third in the league for scoring margin at +7.5. Meanwhile, the Cowboys rank fifth in that category winning games by an average of 6.8 points per game.
The Cowboys have one unquestionable leader in 6-foot-4 junior guard Thomas Manzazo, who is averaging 22.5 points per game, five more than any other player in the entire RMAC.
He averaged nearly that in two games against the Grizzlies scoring 21.5 points but went a combined 1-for-9 from 3-point land against ASC.
However, the Cowboys do have the RMAC leader in 3-point field goal percentage and one of those RMAC’s top players in 3-pointers made, in the form of European natives Momcilo Latinovic and Mindaugus Markevicius, respectively. Latinovic, a 6-foot-6 post player from Serbia is leading the RMAC in 3-point percentage at .429 and has made 30 of 61 shots from long distance. He averages 10.9 points per game overall and is second on the Cowboy squad in rebounding as he grabs 4.9 caroms per game.
Meanwhile, Markevicius has made 53 treys, more than 2.0 per game to rank amongst the RMAC’s top five players in that category. He averages 12.4 points per game overall.
Point guard Chris Newsome also averages 9.9 points per game for third-year coach Joe Harge’s squad and paces the team with 74 assists. No other Cowboy players are averaging more than six points per game.
Conversely, the Grizzlies are a bit more balanced and have six different players averaging 8.5 or more points per game.
Junior Marqus Richards (Los Angeles, Calif.) leads the group at 14.0 points per game and is second on the team with his 5.4 rebound per game average. Meanwhile, Deray Wilson (Anchorage, Alaska) has averaged 24.0 points per game over the Grizzlies’ last three and averages 13.3 per game overall.
Arizonans Shayar Lee (Phoenix) and Seth Heinbaugh (Prescott Valley) also average in double-figures at 12.1 and 10.2 points per game, respectively. Heinbaugh also paces the team while ranking fourth in the RMAC overall with his 7.5 rebound per game average. Lee is also tied for the team lead in blocked shots with sophomore center Jack Osborn (Hobart, Tasmania, Australia), who also has grabbed 5.3 rebounds per contest.
Junior Robby Hanzlik (Denver, Colo.) is the Grizzlies’ top 3-point shooter with 45 made and his 42.1 percent, the third best mark in the league.
The Grizzlies also have five different players ranked amongst the RMAC’s top 15 thieves, which has allowed the Grizzlies smash their former NCAA Division II era record for steals. The Grizzlies have 305 this season, 80 more than any other squad in the league and rank fourth in the entire nation for steals per game 11.7. New Mexico Highlands ranks second in the conference with a 7.8 per game average.
Junior point guard Jamiko Verner (Denver, Colo.) leads all RMAC players with 56 total steals but missed last Saturday’s game due to injury.