Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
Coaches, fans and players had to have a serious case of déjá vu Tuesday night.
The 22nd-ranked Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team and its counterpart from Colorado School of Mines played an eerily similar game Jan. 26, only this time, there wasn’t an Alex Herrera dunk at the buzzer.
There was, however, Nick Tomsick.
The junior guard scored nine of his career-high 28 points in overtime as the third-seeded Skyhawks used a 13-0 run to outscore the sixth-seeded Orediggers 19-5 in overtime for an 84-70 win in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Shootout quarterfinals Tuesday night at Whalen Gymnasium.
“I think the biggest part was just motivation to win for our seniors. We didn’t want our seniors to go out like that,” Tomsick said. “It’s been such a good year, and we’ve been through so much that we wanted to go out with a bang, and we didn’t want to lose in the first round.”
It looked as though FLC (20-6) had a victory locked up with 3 minutes, 41 seconds to play after Tomsick hit a 3-pointer to push the lead to 65-54. But Colorado Mines (15-12) ended regulation on an 11-0 run and took its first lead of the night at 68-67 on a Ruben Jackson 3 early in overtime.
“They came in here knowing they had absolutely nothing to lose, very similar to our situation last year at Adams State, where they just made plays,” FLC head coach Bob Hofman said.
Then Tomsick, with some help from Marcus Ayala and Matt Mazarei, caught fire. Tomsick hit a pair of free throws, then Ayala had a steal and a layup to push FLC back up 71-68. Tomsick then hit a 3, Mazarei hit two free throws, and Tomsick hit two more from the foul line before two more foul shots from Mazarei pushed the run to 13-0 and the lead to 80-68 with 1:15 left.
“I feel like we feed off each other,” Ayala said. “If one of us isn’t pulling our end ... one of us will step up for each other. For instance, Nick hit some big 3s (Tuesday).”
The FLC defense rediscovered itself after regulation, as well, with Torrey Udall spearheading a defensive effort that kept All-RMAC first-team member Luke Meisch scoreless in the extra frame after he tallied 29 points and seven rebounds in regulation. The Orediggers hit just 2 of 8 from the field in overtime.
Other than the lapse at the end of regulation, FLC had a pretty strong defensive night, allowing the Orediggers to shoot just 39 percent, while Jared Smith and Marcus Ayala had three steals apiece.
Meisch, however, was the one constant, and Tomsick said the reason for his success was his ability to post up smaller players when the Skyhawks switched the high pick-and-roll.
The battle of two RMAC first-team selections in the post proved to be a stalemate. Mines’ Trevor Wages scored 12 points and had nine rebounds, while Herrera, the league’s selection as its top defensive performer this year, had 10 points and nine boards.
Ayala chipped in 15 points for FLC, and the Skyhawks rode a strong defensive effort spearheaded by Smith up top to lead 35-27 at halftime.
Brian Muller and Garrett Loew had nine apiece for the Orediggers.
Now, the focus shifts to Friday’s semifinal matchup in Denver against Adams State, the No. 2 seed and a 91-74 winner over New Mexico Highlands on Tuesday in Alamosa. The Grizzlies swept FLC in the regular season.
“In the last six games, Adams has played better than anybody in the league,” Hofman said. “They’re very deep. They’re very physical. They’re very well coached.”