With a little inspiration and a renewed focus after halftime, fourth-seed Mesa erased a lackluster first half against a dangerous city rival.
Sophomore Jalen Jenkins had 25 points, 15 in the second half, as the Jackrabbits pulled away from No. 13 Dobson for a 68-54 win Saturday night in the round of 16 of the boys Division I state basketball tournament.
With Saturday’s win, Mesa advances to the 2:30 p.m. quarterfinal game against No. 5 Desert Mountain on Tuesday at Wells Fargo Arena.
The Jackrabbits failed to reach the playoffs last season after a run to the semifinals in 2011.
“Before the game we watched some inspirational videos,” Jenkins said. “We were mentally focused, he told me we had to step everything up. I tried to take leadership out there. I’m young, I’m just learning but we’ve learned a lot since last year.”
The Jackrabbits used superior defense to keep the game low scoring and neutralize the Mustangs’ big guns. Dobson's Jaron Hopkins to nine points - five in the first three quarters - and Ryan Richardson to seven, all in the second half. Both ended up fouling out and could not rally Dobson as they did in a first-round win over Highland.
“I think our guys did a great job, team defense the whole night,” Mesa coach Shane Burcar said. “We couldn’t shoot in the first half but they only had 17 so we had a three-point lead. But we carried that into the second half.”
Instead, Mesa played its methodical game, trying to get the ball inside to 6-foot-10 Isaac Allen. The Jackrabbits (25-5) couldn’t get their shots to fall in the first half but with its stifling defense – and a late three by reserve Kale Abbott – had a 20-17 lead at the break.
“Second half we started making shots, change of pace worked to our advantage,” Burcar said. “They missed shots that they normally make but our guys stepped up.”
Christian Harris hit a pair of baskets in the first 75 seconds of the second half to set the tone. D.J. Henderson began his second-half run with a long three with 4:29 left in the third quarter and all of a sudden Mesa had a 28-17 lead. Henderson finished with 19 points, all in the second half, including 10 of 12 from the line in the final two minutes to help seal it.
“During halftime, everyone was focused,” Jenkins said. “We took good shots in the first half but we weren’t making them so we came out in the second half, put up some shots and came out ready to play.”
For Dobson (18-12), Kodi Justice tried to pick up the slack, finishing the night with 21 points but it wasn’t enough against the quick, opportunistic Jackrabbits.
“In the third quarter, we left their shooters (open),” Dobson coach Rick McConnell said. “We did a good job in the first half of not leaving their shooters and that was the difference in the game. They stretched it out and we just had to scramble the rest of the way.”
Jenkins took it the basket twice in opening minutes of the fourth quarter against Hopkins to keep Mesa in control.
“Jalen can get to the rim because they've got to guard the other guys,” Burcar said.
The "other guys" include Allen, who finished with 16 rebounds, and Harris, who hit 3-pointers from either side of the perimeter in the pivotal third quarter.
“A lot of people think we are delaying but we’re not, we’re using our athletic ability, our skills, our big guys to our advantage,” Burcar said.
Mesa 68, Dobson 54
Dobson 13 4 14 23 - 54
Mesa 10 10 22 26 – 68
Dobson: Justice 21, Hopkins 9, Richardson 7, Williams 7, Glick 6, Brusnahan 2, Mellinger 2.
Mesa: Jenkins 25, Henderson 19, Harris 10, Velazco 6, Allen 5, Abbott 3.