The Mesa and Dobson boys basketball teams may have the best collections of elite talent in the state.
The second-ranked Jackrabbits put it to good use on Thursday night, but the Mustangs must go back to the drawing board.
Mesa used its depth and balance to control the game, picking up a 57-40 win over the No. 6 Mustangs in a Division I matchup on Thursday night at Mesa High.
D.J. Henderson had 15 points, Dan Richards 14 and Isaac Allen added 12 points and 11 rebounds as Mesa shrugged off a slow start to secure the win. The Jackrabbits trailed by five points with 3:28 left in the first quarter but went on a 35-8 run to take a 22-point lead early in the third quarter.
Dobson pulled to within five points with 4:25 remaining, but the Jackrabbits scored the final 12 points to secure the the win.
The game had the atmosphere of a playoff contest with a packed gym and a television audience. It was a matchup of the Tribune’s top-two ranked preseason teams.
“We were hyped for this game for four days,” Allen said. “We started off way too excited because we just wanted to blow them out of the water. But we settled down after halftime and did really good.”
While the pace was frenetic and the game was sloppy, Mesa did a much better job of getting quality looks.
Dobson has a pair of players — Kodi Justice and Jaron Hopkins — who are committed to Pac-12 programs, but there was no cohesion in the half court.
Hopkins shot 5-of-22 from the field and 5-of-12 from the free throw line, finishing with 15 points. Justice was 2-of-11 from the field, including 1-of-10 from behind the 3-point line, for only five points.
“We’ve really struggled with trying to be patient and not force shots, and sometimes it’s on the ridiculous end,” Dobson coach Rick McConnell said. “We’re not really sure what else we can do, so we just take the hardest shot we can find.”
When Hopkins and Ryan Richardson transferred to Dobson in the summer to join Justice, the Mustangs were immediately elevated to one of the main title contenders. However, this is a second straight humbling loss after getting beaten by Corona del Sol on Friday.
Justice missed the first seven games of the year with a foot fracture and is still rounding into shape, but the bigger concern is the lack of offensive chemistry.
“There’s a huge art to finding the open guy and making other people better,” McConnell said. “We really just need to calm down. Boy, oh, boy. We didn’t shoot it well at all, but shooting has so much to do with delivering the ball to people right on time and in rhythm. That’s the key to shooting...I think we can do it, but in the last two games we’ve just gotten wild and wilder.”
Mesa has now won nine straight games after an season-opening loss to Hamilton, and the scoring balance has been a big key. Henderson leads the way with 16.7 points per game and every other starter averages at least 8.0 points per contest.
“That’s the thing about our team,” Mesa coach Shane Burcar said. “D.J., a lot of people think he’s our best player, and he probably is. Last week he shot (only) eight and nine times. That’s unheard of. But he doesn’t care. He’s making the extra pass. That’s where we’re at with our depth and talent. It’s about the team.”