Shaun Stanley/Durango Herald
Three, two, one ... swish.
Presumably millions of basketball-centric kids on courts nationwide have practiced that very scenario, counting down to themselves before letting fly. The result in those fantasy situations matters little in the grand scheme of things – if it’s a miss, simply try again.
Nick Tomsick didn’t have that luxury in games against Dixie State and CSU-Pueblo. Didn’t matter, either. He drained 3-pointers on both occassions to force overtime in games the Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team would go on to win, the latter on a buzzer beater from center Torrey Udall.
And while they’ve been far from perfect in five games, the Skyhawks’ record is sterling: five wins, no losses.
Two of them were comfortable victories over NAIA program Northern New Mexico. The other three, however, have been decidedly tighter. Alongside the two overtime victories, FLC topped UC-Colorado Springs 72-69 last weekend in both teams’ Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference openers.
With a team that’s working in so many new faces or players in new roles, tight victories are morale boosters, perhaps building cohesiveness through struggle and tense moments.
“I think it was a good job for us battling adversity to come back in games to even have a chance to have a shot at the end,” Tomsick said. “So I think that was the main thing. ... If those games go a different way, our mindset’s completely different than it is now being 5-0.”
Of course there’s the flipside to that. FLC has been nothing short of masterful late in games, but the Skyhawks trailed CSU-Pueblo by seven with 55 seconds to go before a blistering rally. They trailed by six with 1:37 to go against Dixie State, as well.
So despite a stellar record, head coach Bob Hofman is far from satisfied as Adams State heads to town for tonight’s game.
“We have a rhythm that we need to play, and I don’t think we’ve really established that rhythm yet,” Hofman said.
“In some respects, when it happens early in the year, it can end up a sense of fool’s gold, where you think ‘Ah, no matter what, we’re going to find a way.’ But quite often, when your margin of error doesn’t increase, those games can turn against you.”
If Tomsick is any indication, neither are the players. The team knows Adams State presents a different kind of challenge as an undefeated team in its own right, so there’s room for improvement as the Skyhawks meet the Grizzlies, then rivals Colorado Mesa and Western State next weekend.
“Defensively has been a big key that we’ve been working on, jumping to the ball and getting in a little better shape, still,” Tomsick said.
That mentality has been evident at practice, where Hofman’s been seeking to keep his charges’ eyes looking forward, not back. And Hofman’s practices this week haven’t been so much about length as enthusiasm and energy over a shorter period of time.
“As a program, we’ve been successful, but you’re never successful because you care about winning, but you care about effort,” Hofman said. “And I like the word enthusiasm better than intensity, but it’s got to be all the time. It can’t be some of the time.”
The Skyhawks weren’t nearly as lucky or good in late-game, tense situations last season. They were just 2-7 in games decided by five or fewer points a year ago, including a 1-2 mark in three tight contests with the Grizzlies, the victory coming in OT in the RMAC Tournament opener in Alamosa.
Flipping that around and winning the close games, or any game for that matter, isn’t about caring more intensely about the outcome but rather the energy, Hofman said. FLC will need it to stay unbeaten against a good Grizzlies team. Then again, the Skyhawks have been on the money when the clock reaches its end destination.