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Mullen 'D' quite large in taking down Jeffco's Chatfield in late matchup

By Neil H. Devlin, Mullen Sports Information Director
Head coach Caton turns defense over to assistant Leslie -- move pays huge dividends in key 68-56 victory as Carter goes for 27.
Basketball season almost always is up-and-down for most programs, particularly so during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the consolidated Season B.

Consider Mullen … through their first eight games, all in the Centennial league, the Mustangs followed the pattern of win one, lose won. Then they won two in a row and followed by losing two in a row.

It got even more peculiar recently. Mullen’s game in league on Friday night was supposed to be against Aurora’s Overland, only the Trailblazers are dealing with COVID-19 restrictions and are quarantined. So the Mustangs were able to find another foe, Jefferson County’s Class 5A Chatfield, which was 9-1 entering Friday and tied for the league lead at 7-1 with Valor Christian.

So what happened? Mullen led virtually all of the way and handled the Chargers 68-56 in nonleague at Hutchison Fieldhouse.

Now 6-5 with a three-game slate to cap next week’s final stretch of the regular season, the Mustangs also switched their starting lineup, jumped from No. 33 to 25 in the 5A RPI numbers and head coach Bob Caton had assistant Roosevelt Leslie run the defense that paid huge dividends. Right from the start, Mullen pressure clearly bothered the Chargers, whose turnovers kept them chasing.

“Roosevelt did a great job with our defense, switching things up,” Caton said.

Leslie, in his second season with the Mustangs, said “I just wanted to utilize all of our defensive packages we have and just challenge the guys to play with effort. Every timeout we switched defenses and turned them over, and kept them guessing and keep them on their toes all night.”

It worked. Chatfield was guilty of seven turnovers in the first quarter and had no answer for Brayden Carter, who scored 10 of the Mustangs’ first 16 points. The Mullen defensive pressure, inside and underneath, kept the Chargers chasing.

“Coach Leslie had the defense today,” Carter said. “I think it helped and allowed Coach Caton to concentrate on other things ... I think this can help us in the future.”

Indeed, Chatfield made a couple of runs and turned effective from the perimeter, but the Mustangs repeatedly offered answers. Carter had another terrific outing, dunking regularly for a game-high 27 points. He added seven rebounds and a couple of blocks. Micah Leslie also turned definitively active, going for 14 points, defending well, cutting across the lane and establishing position in it, and rebounding. Steady guard Josh Lopez also scored 14, ran the offense and stood up against Chargers pressure. And 6-foot-6 senior Ryan Schmitt took advantage of a start for six points in competing well inside.

“There’s a big difference when we defend and protect the ball,” Roosevelt Leslie said.

An interesting final week await the Mustangs, who are intent on making the 32-team field for big-school playoffs. They will be at Cherokee Trail in Aurora on Tuesday, March 2; home against Eaglecrest on Thursday, March 4; and at Arapahoe in Centennial on Saturday, March 6. All tip-offs will be at 7:15 p.m.

“If we can find a way into the playoffs, with our league, we can beat anyone,” Roosevelt Leslie said.

Chatfield  7  17  18  14  --  56

Mullen  16  19  13  20  --  68

Chatfield – Goroski 4 0-0 8, Carter 2 0-0 5, Foutch 0 0-1 0, Johnson 3 1-2 9, Miller 8 0-0 18, Rubin 2 1-1 6, Jacobson 3 0-0 8, Rumsey 0 2-2 2, Marschall 0 0-0 0. Totals 22 4-6 56.

Mullen – J. Leslie 1 2-3 4, Lopez 3 6-8 14, M. Leslie 5 4-6 14, Schmitt 2 2-2 6, Carter 9 9-10 27, Berg 0 0-0 0, Heffern 0 0-0 0, Smith 0 0-0 0, Dominguez 1 0-0 3. Totals 21 22-29 68.

3-pt. goals – Jacobson 2, Johnson 2, Miller 2, Carter, Rubin; Lopez 2, Dominguez.