GUNNISON, Colo. – Midland University’s men’s basketball team hit the road this past weekend and headed to Colorado to play a pair of exhibition games versus two good NCAA Division II teams.
The Warriors dropped a close game to the Western Colorado Mountaineers 61-54 on Friday after a second half rally fell just short. Midland then fell 89-66 on Saturday versus the Colorado Mesa Mavericks to finish the two-game trip.
“We had another weekend of great competition against two NCAA Division II teams,” said Midland head coach Oliver Drake. “Our guys really competed against Western Colorado on their home floor. We just fell a little short in the final minute.”
The Warriors fell behind by as many as 12 points in the first half on Friday, but started fast in the second half to tie the Mountaineers at 41-41 with 10 minutes to play. A 7-2 run late in the half then got the Warriors back to within one point of the lead in the final minute.
After a three-pointer from junior Laurence Merritt, the Warriors set up their press with Merritt guarding the Mountaineer point guard after the inbounds pass. Merritt appeared to take an elbow to the jaw, but not foul was called, forcing the Warriors to foul James Willis with 32 seconds on the clock.
Willis and Cole Sienkecht each stepped to the free throw line in the final 30 seconds of the game and combined to go 6-for-6 from the stripe to put an end to Midland’s comeback efforts.
Merritt led the Warriors with 10 points and tied for the team lead with six assists. He also added three assists and a steal to go along with zero turnovers in 33 minutes. He got help from freshman Kylan Smallwood, who finished with nine points and six rebounds.
On Saturday, the Warriors couldn’t keep pace with the Mavericks, who ran away with the game in the first half. CMU jumped on the Warriors from the start and pushed the first half lead to as many as 25 points on 19-for-28 shooting from the field in the first 20 minutes.
“Colorado Mesa is a really talented team that won 19 games last season,” Drake said. “We competed hard and got better this weekend against some good competition.”
Midland struggled with shooting in the first half, but settled in in the second half to finish the game 24-for-60 (40 percent) from the field. Merritt led the Warriors again with 11 points and added three assists. Sophomore Emanuel Bryson got the start on Saturday and finished with 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the field while adding six rebounds.
Freshman Jake Rueschhoff added 10 points and six assists off the bench in 33 minutes of action.
With both games being exhibitions for Midland, the Warriors could use them as a chance to improve their game and get valuable on-court time ahead of some challenging regular season games. Four of Midland’s next five games will be against teams currently ranked or receiving votes in the NAIA Coaches Poll.
Midland returns to GPAC play on Tuesday, November 26, with an 8:00 p.m. game on the road at Hastings College.