Head coach Bob Pietrack has plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the direction of the Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team. In 2021 growing into 2022, it’s about putting all the pieces together to once again contend for conference championships.
The Skyhawks (2-2, 1-2 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) last played Dec. 19 in Golden in a 79-73 loss to fifth-ranked Colorado School of Mines in a game in which Pietrack coached without the benefit of an assistant, or multiple assistants like his counterpart, because of COVID-19 issues.
FLC scored 73 points against the nation’s top defense which has allowed only 55.2 points per game so far this season. Though the trip ended with a loss, FLC could go into a week-long winter break feeling though it is going in the right direction.
“We want to try to build momentum from the Mines game and think we can put together a good ball game on Sunday,” Pietrack said. “We feel good about the direction of our team and how it is growing each day. All of our guys have committed to coming back next year with the extra season of eligibility the NCAA has given because of COVID-19. We think we can do some really special things the next two years with this group all together.”
The Skyhawks won’t be at full strength Sunday because of some coronavirus issues, but they are expected to welcome the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Hardrockers at 4 p.m. Sunday to Whalen Gymnasium in Durango. The game was originally slated as the season opener in late November but was postponed when the Hardrockers had their own COVID-19 issues. The game status is pending the return of test results Saturday.
Though fans won’t be permitted inside the gym for the game, fans who tune into the Skyhawks’ internet broadcast will get a chance to see sixth-year senior Riley Farris, a preseason All-American who has not disappointed so far this year.
Farris has averaged 19 points per game, the third most among players in the RMAC to play more than two games this season. He is also seventh in the RMAC in rebounding with seven per game.
More impressive, Farris has led the conference in assists with 4.5 per game this season as well as blocked shots with two per game.
“Riley has worked very hard and is trying to be known for more than just being a scorer,” Pietrack said. “He leads our team in every major category right now. We play through him because he makes other guys better. His scoring is down from last year, but that’s because he is finding teammates and helping them score. It’s led to more balance and much better team stats. Riley playing that way will translate to us having a very good second semester.”
Transfer guard Dunnell “Scottie” Stafford has made an immediate impact on the Skyhawks. The junior has averaged 12.5 points and has made 60.6% of his shots. He has the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the league with 12 assists to only three turnovers.
“He’s been a huge addition to us,” Pietrack said. “It’s kind of funny, we didn’t recruit him as a point guard. With the injury to Logan Hokanson lasting longer than we thought and him being out for the year, Scottie stepped in and took that role as the lead guard and has done a nice job. We preach taking care of the ball in our program, and he’s been excellent at that. He’s only had four games with our program and is only scratching the surface of what he can be this year and the two years after that.”
Senior wing man Will Wittman has averaged 10.3 points per game and has thrive in the offensive rebounding department to average 4.5 rebounds per game. Sophomore guard Akuel Kot picked up where he left off a season ago with 10 points per game to go with 1.5 steals per game. Do-it-all senior Corey Seng has also averaged nine points and three rebounds per game while playing strong defense.
TThe Hardrockers have won two of their last three games with wins against Adams State and Colorado Christian. They started the season with lopsided losses to Mines and Regis as well as a double-digit loss to Metro State.
South Dakota Mines has the worst scoring offense in the RMAC this season at 61.2 points per game, but FLC knows it will be a challenge inside rebounding and finishing against the league’s biggest team.
The Hardrockers are led in scoring by Wilfred Dickson with 10 points per game. Kolten Mortensen has averaged nine points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds per game this year.
“They are a good rebounding team, and we have to do a good job on the glass. The game is at our place, so we feel it is our game as long as we share the ball and defend like crazy,” Pietrack said. “If you take out our loss to Colorado Christian in which we gave up 15 3-pointers, we feel we have defended pretty solid.
“Our field-goal percentage is where we want it, and our offensive points per possession are fourth in the country. If we hold teams to 45% shooting and can defend the 3-point line, we will be in business every night.”