The only scoreboard the Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team paid attention to Friday night was its own.
The Skyhawks (16-9, 13-8 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) lit up the scoreboard inside Whalen Gymnasium in a 76-62 toppling of the Western State Colorado Mountaineers (3-22, 3-18 RMAC).
The victory moved the Skyhawks from fifth to fourth in the RMAC standings. FLC controls its own destiny when it comes to hosting a home game in the conference tournament. If FLC can beat Colorado Mesa (13-12, 11-10 RMAC) on Saturday night, it will host a game.
“It is by far the biggest game of the year. We have to come out with a ton of energy and play the way we know how,” FLC senior guard Nick Tomsick said. “It is Mesa, so we should have a ton of energy just because of that.”
Friday night’s game was big as far as the RMAC standings go. FLC came about a bit slow and struggled with some of its passes early. But the Skyhawks played a solid final 10 minutes of the first half to build a 45-26 lead going into the locker room.
“We weren’t moving the ball very well in the first 10 minutes at all. We were lucky enough to make some shots, but we are going to have to move the ball a lot better (Saturday),” FLC associate head coach Bob Pietrack said.
Tomsick led the Skyhawks with a game-high 23 points on 9-of-17 shooting. The senior was happy to perform in front of a crowd full of former Skyhawks players who were honored before the game.
“We want to play good for the people who have come to watch the team. With all the players coming back, we wanted to put on a good show for them,” Tomsick said. “They are Skyhawks, too, and we want to make them proud.”
FLC junior center Alex Herrera had a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds. He also recorded four more blocks to stretch the FLC single-season record to 89. Herrera had a solid all-around night despite drawing double and triple teams inside the paint.
“They were doubling (Herrera) hard in the post. He did a great job getting rebounds and kicking it to us,” Tomsick said. “We hit enough shots to get by, but we have to be better.”
FLC shot 51.4 percent from the field in the first half but just 39.3 percent in the second half. FLC benefitted from a big discrepancy in the rebounding department as they hauled in 47 boards to just 30 for the Mountaineers.
FLC led by as many as 25 points with just less than nine minutes to play in the second half. Cold shooting and hard-nosed play by Western State kept the game close despite the Mountaineers’ 35.6-percent shooting in the game.
Jordan Adams led the Mountaineers with 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting. Mason Biddle finished with 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting, but Biddle was whistled for a technical foul at a key time in the second half when Western State tried to get back into the game.
“Western State played hard. Give them and their staff credit because those kids didn’t quit one ounce,” Pietrack said. “Adams is a very good player, and he was tough to stop.”
FLC welcomed back senior guard Wes McKenzie, who missed the last four games with a broken hand. McKenzie had five points, five rebounds and three assists to go along with several big hustle plays.
“It is huge to have Wes back,” Pietrack said. “We have four captains, and Wes is such an emotional leader for us. He just makes a lot of winning plays. He made a few plays (Friday) that were classic Wes McKenzie plays.”
FLC is a few more ‘winning plays’ away from hosting an RMAC tournament game. Pietrack said a big key to beating Mesa will be rebounding. The Mavericks outrebounded the Skyhawks 47-23 when Mesa beat FLC 93-67 on Dec. 20.
Tomsick said he and his three fellow seniors are determined to get redemption for that loss and for their tough loss in last year’s senior-night game when the team lost to Regis one night after beating then-No. 1 Metro State, the eventual national runner-up.
“We just have to take it possession by possession and play our way,” Pietrack said. “We want to limit what they do well, play Fort Lewis basketball and see what happens after 40 minutes.”