Avoiding a second-half collapse, the Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team finished the regular season with a bang.
The FLC Skyhawks (17-9, 14-8 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) rode the poise of its seniors on senior night to secure an 84-80 win against the Colorado Mesa Mavericks (13-13, 11-11 RMAC).
The Skyhawks led by as many as 19 points with 12 minutes, 9 seconds left in the game, but the Mavericks stormed back, even taking a 79-78 lead with just more than a minute to play. But senior leadership carried the Skyhawks, as senior guard Mike Matthews made four free throws, and senior guard Nick Tomsick made two more free throws to help send the Skyhawks to victory.
“It is huge,” FLC associate head coach Bob Pietrack said. “Our rivalry with Mesa, in our opinion, is as good as any rivalry in the RMAC, regardless of sport. We knew they would come back. It is just the nature of the rivalry. We are just very happy to fight it off and gut it out and get to where we are at now.”
The victory not only served as revenge for a 93-67 road loss at Colorado Mesa earlier in the season, it gave the Skyhawks a top-four finish in the RMAC standings for the 13th consecutive season. FLC now will host a first-round game in the RMAC Shootout at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday against CSU-Pueblo (15-11, 13-9 RMAC).
“We like to think we have been really consistent and successful. We have had a ton of great players come through, and it meant a lot to our guys,” Pietrack said. “It speaks to the consistency and (head coach Bob Hofman).”
FLC was led by junior center Alex Herrera’s 22 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots. Herrera had 17 points and five rebounds in the first half, but the Mavericks clamped down on him in the post with double teams in the second half, limiting the big man to one point and one rebound through the first 10 minutes of the second half.
“The first half, the double wasn’t getting there as quick. In the second half, they were pretty much just sitting a person there in the paint,” Herrera said. “It opened it up for our outside shooters.”
FLC shot 40 percent in the game, while Colorado Mesa shot 47.5 percent. But the Skyhawks did a great job cleaning up some of their own mess with 14 offensive rebounds while outrebounding the Mavericks 40-28 in the game.
Tomsick finished with 13 points on just 2-of-10 shooting, but he and the Skyhawks combined to shoot 30-for-36 from the free throw line.
“We knew it was going to come down to not doing anything dumb defensively and making our free throws, and we did a pretty good job of that,” Tomsick said.
Matthews finished with 10 points, seven rebounds, four steals and three assists in a big game for FLC.
“Mike is a wild card; (Saturday) he turned up joker for us,” Pietrack said. “He made all of his free throws and had a big steal at the end. That’s what we expect from Mike.”
FLC couldn’t slow down the sharpshooting of the Mavericks in the second half. Jerry Duckworth scored 18 points off the bench for Colorado Mesa and hit a few clutch 3-point baskets down the stretch. Center Ryan Stephan scored 22 points and grabbed seven rebounds as he went toe-to-toe with Herrera all night in the paint.
FLC had enough shooting of its own as Lucas Archuleta, Cade Kloster and Jared Smith stepped up with big contributions off the bench.
Also finishing in double figures for FLC was senior guard Wes McKenzie. He finished with 11 points, including a couple of big 3-pointers in the first half. McKenzie, in his second game back from injury, was happy to put on a show for a great crowd.
“We really connect with a lot of the fans here, and a lot of the students are really supportive,” McKenzie said. “We appreciate it, and it is a great feeling to have that backing us.”
FLC will have those fans backing them one more time Tuesday night against a CSU-Pueblo team that beat the Skyhawks twice this season in a couple of close games.
“This has been a really fun place to play the last two years, and we have another senior night Tuesday,” Tomsick said.