Thomas Manzano and Mindaugas Markevicius combined for 54 points — including nine 3-point baskets — to help the New Mexico Highlands men’s basketball team upset defending Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference champion Metro State 91-78 on Friday night.
It’s the biggest win of the young season for head coach Joe Harge and his Cowboys, and it came in what was both the home opener and the RMAC opener for NMHU.
Metro was the team to which Highlands lost in the championship game of the league postseason tournament, the RMAC Shootout, this past March. A National Association of Basketball Coaches poll had the Roadrunners as the 11th best team in NCAA Division II.
The Cowboys (5-0, 2-0 RMAC) shot an accurate 60 percent for the game and went 10 for 16 from beyond the 3-point stripe.
Eight of those long shots came in the first half as the ‘Pokes took a 48-35 lead.
Manzano scored a game-high 34 points on 10 of 17 shooting. Three of his field goals were 3-pointers. He also sank 11 of 15 free throws, snagged five rebounds, blocked a shot and stole the ball once.
Markevicius drained six 3-pointers in seven attempts on his way to 20 points.
Mike Moody added 10 points and four rebounds.
The Roadrunners (3-2, 0-1) had five men in double figures: All-RMAC pick Reggie Evans (17), A.J. Flournoy (13), Brandon Jefferson (12), Jonathan Morse (11), and Quaran Johnson (10).
But Metro was held to 42 percent shooting and the Cowboys outrebounded them 33-24.
Markevicius opened the game with a 3-ball, and with the exception of a fleeting 7-6 Metro State edge with 16:32 left in the first half, Highlands stayed in front.
Manzano got hot late in the first half, and he made the Cowboys’ last 12 points in the period as the team led by as many as 14.
The closest the Roadrunners got in the second half was with 6:23 remaining, when Glenn Miller hit two foul shots to make it 74-69. But Markevicius answered with a 3-point bucket, and Chris Newsome swiped the ball away from Baul Brotherson on the next possession, going coast to coast for a successful jump shot that gave Highlands a 79-69 advantage.
“This was a great win for us,” Harge said in a news release from the NMHU sports information office. "However, we have to be cautious because there are 21 more conference games to go. Thomas (Manzano) and Mindaugas (Markevicius) were great tonight, but all in all it was a great team effort, a great crowd and a great way to start RMAC play.”
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The Cowboys followed up the upset of Metro State by throttling Regis 70-52 on Saturday night.
Again, Manzano and Markevicius notched double-digit scoring totals. Manzano accounted for 23 points, five rebounds, two assists, two blocks and one steal in just 29 minutes of floor time.
Markevicius scored 16, knocking down four shots from 3-point land.
Robertson High alumni Daniel Gutierrez and Justin Montoya each got into the scoring column as well. Gutierrez had three points and a couple of rebounds; Montoya scored one point and had one assist.
NMHU led by as many as 21 — 54-33 after a bucket by Momcilo Latinovic — and never trailed.
Chris Johansen led the Rangers (2-3, 0-2) with 16 points.