Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
Deja vu all over again, as Fort Lewis College men’s basketball coach Bob Hofman put it.
FLC watched a 19-point lead against Colorado Mesa dwindle to one, a near carbon copy of last Saturday’s loss to Adams State.
Unlike that game, however, the Skyhawks answered this body blow with their own knockout punch.
Nick Tomsick scored all nine of his points in a 13-1 run that put FLC up 62-49, and the Skyhawks got big games from their bigs to clip rival Colorado Mesa 71-61 on Sunday at Whalen Gymnasium.
It was the answer Fort Lewis (6-1, 3-1 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) lacked in an 82-76 loss to the Grizzlies. Up just 49-48 with 7:15 to go, the Skyhawks finally got rolling. Torrey Udall hit two free throws, then Tomsick hit the first of his 3s before Clayton Kame’s free throw. A Wes McKenzie layup and two more Tomsick 3s later, and the Skyhawks led by 13 with 3 minutes to go, holding on from there.
“I thought Nick Tomsick had a big 3 that gave us momentum back,” said Hofman, whose team dedicated the game to Fort Lewis college sports information director Chris Aaland, who’s set to undergo a medical procedure in Albuquerque today.
“I think we were floundering a little bit defensively when we weren’t getting good looks at the basket, which was the same as last week. And once we finally knocked the lid off, I thought our defense picked up, and we were able to carry it through.”
The Mavericks (7-2, 4-1 RMAC) roared back into it with strong rebounding and quality defense, holding Fort Lewis to a multitude of one-and-done trips and got extra chances thanks to 15 offensive rebounds.
But the bulk of the Skyhawks’ decisive run came after Colorado Mesa’s Colton Burgon picked up his fourth foul, depriving the Mavericks of a quality post defender – which hurt more considering Chandler Burgon was in street clothes.
Colton Burgon had 10 points, Landon Vermeer 14 and Mike Melillo 12 for the Mavericks.
The Fort Lewis bigs mustered a strong night.
Ignacio High School alumnus Alex Herrera was a tower most of the night, scoring 14 points and pulling down 10 rebounds, including a nifty drop step-dunk combo early in the game.
Udall had 11 points, capped by an emphatic dunk late, and seven boards as Hofman elected to start his two 6-9 players together to combat a big Mavericks’ team.
“I’m just getting more into a rhythm, working in the rhythm of the offense,” said Herrera, son of Chris and Kathy Herrera. “It feels great to help out the team.”
Not to be outdone, point guard Marcus Ayala poured in 17 points off the bench and had four assists against zero turnovers. Ayala particularly was instrumental before halftime, when he scored 13 points and helped the Skyhawks hold Mesa without a point for nearly seven minutes to build a lead as big as 38-19 with 3:06 left in the first half.
“You’re never going to put a stake in their heart until the final horn sounds or the final whistle blows,” Hofman said.
Now the Skyhawks’ focus turns to Western State, which brings a one-loss RMAC mark into a 7:30 p.m. contest tonight. Finishing the weekend sweep of their Western Slope foes would leave FLC sitting pretty in the RMAC heading into the holidays.
“We really need to get a win (today). It’s a big game to come out and not be lackadasical,” Herrera said.