Metro men’s basketball had a season of excitement and adversity, as well as disappointment. They finished the 2009-2010 campaigns at 24-7 with an RMAC championship under their belt, but they lost to the Central Region Tournament champion St. Cloud State Huskies in the opening round of the Central Region Tournament.
“It was very impressive the way the guys came together, improved and how we finished the season,” said Head Coach Brannon Hays. “We had our ups and downs, but they kept coming closer and closer together as a team. The returners really stepped up and led the group, and the guys were buying in and working hard. So, it was fun to be a part of it.”
Junior guard Donte Nicholas also took note of this past season.
“I felt like it was a good experience for the young guys coming in,” he said. “We got 10 new guys this year, just to give them a taste of what it’s going to be like and what we’ve got to do to get to where we want to be next year, which is [to] advance to the next level [of the tournament].”
The first month and a half of the season was memorable. Metro dominated at home and they were just as efficient on the road. Nicolas, Brian Minor and Reggie Evans led the team on the court. Meanwhile, freshman center Jonathan Morse blossomed into arguably one of the best freshmen in the RMAC because he adapted to playing Metro State basketball quickly.
“He delivered more than we expected,” Hays said of Morse. “Coming in as a freshman post player, we didn’t know how many minutes he would play, and he ended up earning a starting position. In my mind, he was the best freshman in the conference. I thought he did a fantastic job. He wants to be a good player, he wants to learn, his work ethic is tremendous [and] his attitude is fantastic.”
Metro got quite a scare Jan. 16 when they traveled to CSU-Pueblo. The ThunderWolves rallied late, but Metro managed to escape with a 66-64 victory and hold onto their winning streak, courtesy of senior guard Minor’s two game-winning free throws.
As of Jan. 23, the Roadrunners were 15-2 and on a nine-game winning streak until Colorado Mines came to the Auraria Events Center Jan. 29, snapping Metro’s streak.
Metro managed to rebound with a 76-64 win the following day against Colorado Christian and their obnoxious fans.
The Roadrunners continued to dominate, sweeping their Nebraska road trip against Nebraska-Kearney and Chadron State to improve to 18-3 on the season.
Their road to the RMAC tournament went good to nerve-racking the following weekend. They dropped both road games against CCU, 66-80, and Mines, 69-78. The players felt agitated, for a lack of a better word, in the days that followed.
“As you go through the year, you up and down,” Hays said. “You play a little better; you win a couple close games. We won a couple games at the buzzer in December against quality opponents here at home, and it was good to get those wins. We had a few bumps in the road when we lost at [Colorado] Christian and at Mines. It was the first time we lost two games in a row as long as I can remember. The guys really regrouped and came back strong the following weeks after that.”
Fortunately, Metro won three of their final four home games, beating Chadron State, losing to UNK and easily taking out Regis and UCCS, to improve to 21-6 and 14-5 in the RMAC. Metro entered the 2010 RMAC tournament in Pueblo as a No. 2 seed.
Metro defeated UCCS in the opening round at the Auraria Events Center, 85-62, before traveling to the Colorado State Fairgrounds Center in Pueblo. Ironically, Metro would square off against CSU-Pueblo in the semifinals.
Metro trailed the ThunderWolves, 23-22, with 5:47 left until halftime but regrouped to take a 36-28 lead at the break. In the second half it was all Metro. Metro shot 16-34 in the second half, eliminating CSU-Pueblo, 70-61.
The following night was arguably the RMAC game of the year. Metro overcame a 19-point deficit to defeat New Mexico Highlands, 83-79, and to win the RMAC Shootout. Metro outscored Highlands 39-19 in the final 12:28. Metro entered the Central Region tournament as the five seed.
Unfortunately, Metro’s season ended in the opening round against St. Cloud State, 77-82. Minor lost control of the ball and the Huskies recovered it and made a pair of free throws with 0.2 seconds left in regulation, eliminating the Roadrunners.
“I actually feel pretty good, even though we ended the way we didn’t necessarily wanted to,” reserve center Shakir Johnson said. “We made some really good progress, had 10 new recruits and we did well with them. Hopefully, we’ll do better next season.”
This season was fun, frantic and insane. The only question on everybody’s mind is this: Can Metro clinch another RMAC title without Minor? With the other four starters returning next season, chances look high again.
“The goal is to get better,” Nicholas said. “[We’re] pretty much coming back with the same core group of guys. Four out of the five starters will be back, so I see no reason for us to slow down.”