Don’t expect the Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team to back down to the No. 1 team in the nation.
The Fort Lewis College Skyhawks (18-9, 14-8 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) has reached the final four of the RMAC Shootout for the 11th time in the last 13 seasons under head coach Bob Hofman. The Skyhawks advanced to the final four after beating CSU-Pueblo 79-68 in the quarterfinals Tuesday at home.
A model of consistency, the Skyhawks know they belong with the top teams in the conference every season. That includes the top-ranked Metro State Roadrunners (26-1, 22-0 RMAC), who the Skyhawks will face Friday in Denver in the Shootout semifinals.
“We are a confident team in general,” FLC associate head coach Bob Pietrack said. “We know how good they are, and we just have to play well. It is not a mentality thing going into it; if we play well, we will be there with them.”
The Metro State Roadrunners won both previous matchups against the Skyhawks this season, outscoring FLC 181-137 in those games, including a 103-72 victory Feb. 21 at the Auraria Event Center in Denver, home of this year’s RMAC final four.
The Skyhawks are determined to not suffer another lopsided loss.
“We are definitely really motivated,” FLC senior guard Nick Tomsick said after the Skyhawks’ quarterfinal victory. “When backs are against the wall and if you lose your career is done, I think it will be a different game. I don’t think we will get beat by 30. It will be a good game down the stretch.”
Metro State is first in the league in scoring defense, holding opponents to only 65.2 points per game while outscoring opponents by an average of 16 points per game. The Roadrunners have forced 31 FLC turnovers in two games already this season.
“Metro is a great defensive team that pressures the ball better than anyone in our league,” Pietrack said. “Any success we have will come from how well we handle that press.”
The biggest challenge for FLC will be defending Metro State senior guard and RMAC Player of the Year Brandon Jefferson, who averages 20.9 points per game. Jefferson has averaged the second most points in the conference thanks to a league-best 92.4-percent free throw percentage and 48.4-percent 3-point shooting, which also is tops in the conference.
Jefferson is averaging 29.5 points per game while shooting just less than 70 percent in the two previous games against the Skyhawks this season.
“I don’t know if there is one key to slowing him down. He is a really good player, the best in the league and maybe the whole country,” Pietrack said. “We will do the best job we can on him and hope he doesn’t make every shot.”
Tomsick, who was named to the All-RMAC first team in part thanks to his third-best 20 points per game and his intense focus on the defensive end, will be tasked with defending Jefferson much of the night.
FLC draws confidence in the rebounding department after outrebounding CSU-Pueblo 46-30 on Tuesday.
Junior center Alex Herrera, the RMAC Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, will look to lead the charge for the Skyhawks on the boards.
“The further we want to go right now, the rebounding battle is key,” Herrera said after Tuesday’s win. “All these top teams are good rebounding teams, and we showed we can do it (Tuesday).”
Herrera led the conference in the regular season with 92 blocked shots – a school record – while averaging nine rebounds per game. He will go toe-to-toe with Metro State junior center Nicholas Kay, who averages 15.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.
Since their last loss to the Roadrunners, the Skyhawks have won four consecutive games. Pietrack said his team is up for the challenge of facing them again, especially with a trip to the RMAC Shootout championship game on the line.
“It is exciting to still be playing at this point. Going against Metro just makes it that much more exciting,” he said.