Riley Farris returned to the floor and had a monster game, but it took a little luck for the Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team to escape the Grizzly Den at Adams State University with a win Wednesday in Alamosa.
In a makeup game from a previously postponed matchup against Adams State University and the visiting Skyhawks, two players stole the show. Frederick Jackson scored 28 points and had 10 rebounds before he fouled out in the final 10 seconds of the game. Meanwhile Farris, a preseason All-American senior forward, started for Fort Lewis after he missed last weekend’s two home games because of an illness. He didn’t just return, he finished with game-highs of 29 points and 12 rebounds.
In the end, Farris’ Skyhawks were one point better in a 76-75 road victory.
“Those are two really good Division II players,” FLC head coach Bob Pietrack said of Farris and Jackson. “Compliments to Frederick Jackson, he’s excellent. We’re going to have to play them again this season. When he’s going right, he’s unguardable one-on-one.
“With Farris, we were way more impressed with his 12 rebounds than his 29 points. He missed a couple of free throws down the stretch, but he hasn’t played much basketball in the last 10 days.”
Farris was red hot to start and finished 9-of-14 shooting from the field to go with 9-of-13 at the foul line. He played 28 minutes, more than the restriction he had agreed to before the game.
“I decided to push through it,” Farris said. “I felt good and confident, and the guys were getting me the ball and trusting me. They always share the ball and move so well. Our guys made me look better out there.”
Down five points late in the second half, Farris went on his own 7-0 run in which he made a 3-pointer, two free throws and then a layup to give the Skyhawks (4-4, 3-4 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) a 65-63 lead.
FLC also received a big 3-pointer from junior guard Cesar Molina, a layup and three critical free throws from sophomore guard Akuel Kot and a steal from junior forward Brenden Boatwright combined with free throws from Farris to close out the victory.
But up three points at 76-73 after two Kot free throws with six seconds to play, the Skyhawks opted to foul Adams State guard Destan Williams with four seconds on the clock rather than give the Grizzlies (5-4 RMAC) a chance at a game-tying 3-pointer. Williams made both free throws, and he finished with 18 points and made 7-of-9 foul shots.
“We wanted to foul in the backcourt, but we were hoping it would be close to 2.5 seconds than four,” Pietrack said. “The foul came a touch early, but to our guys’ credit, we had not practiced that a lot. Sometimes the coach wears it when it’s not executed perfectly.”
On the ensuing inbounds play, FLC turned the ball over in the corner with 2.9 seconds still on the clock.
That gave the Grizzlies, without Jackson on the floor, the chance at a final game-winning shot down 76-75. Williams had the ball come into his hands, and he drove hard to the basket and got open for a running floater in the lane at the buzzer. But his shot was a little too strong off the back of the rim, and the Skyhawks could breathe a sigh of relief with the one-point win.
“We had four free-throw shooters on the court and wanted to get the ball in. We thought we got it in cleanly, but the referees didn’t think that,” Pietrack said. “We needed to get a stop in the end. We did not have good execution on their ball screen, but we got a miss.
“The last two years we have come to Alamosa, we played great games but really handed the games back to them each time. This one, it’s nice to get a little bit fortunate in a season in which we haven’t had a ton of good fortune in terms of the ball bouncing our way.”
Kaelin Crane added 12 points and nine rebounds in the loss for the Grizzlies.
FLC played without starting senior wing man Will Wittman, who injured an ankle late in Saturday’s home win against Westminster College. Pietrack played both his big men in the starting lineup with Boatwright, a junior center, adding 11 points and three rebounds. Junior guard Dunnell “Scottie” Stafford scored nine points and had three assists in 18 minutes of action. He went 4-of-7 shooting and gave FLC its first points of the game after a cold opening four minutes.
Molina finished with six points after a carer-high 22 Saturday night against Westminster. He had a team-best five assists before he fouled out. Kot finished with eight points.
“Wittman is an incredibly important piece to our team,” Pietrack said. “He’s been here three years, a two-year starter, and we missed him today. But our guys have stepped up each time we’ve missed a guy and did again today. We don’t expect to have him Saturday, so we will have to do it one more time.”
The Skyhawks will look to make it a three-game winning streak at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (4-5 RMAC).
“This is a big win,” Farris said. “We are right back in the mix with every other RMAC team trying to get in the conference tournament. A win this weekend is crucial and can springboard us into the rest of a big February.”