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Skyhawks squash a 1st-round ‘bug’

Adams State has no defense for Fort Lewis’ red-hot offense

Marcus Ayala and Fort Lewis College gave Adams State star Kaimyn Pruitt fits all day long by constantly hounding the player with a smaller, quicker defense. Ayala had a well-balanced game, and Pruitt scored 21 points but was hounded into seven of the Grizzlies’ 23 turnovers. Enlarge photo

Steve Lewis/Durango Herald

Marcus Ayala and Fort Lewis College gave Adams State star Kaimyn Pruitt fits all day long by constantly hounding the player with a smaller, quicker defense. Ayala had a well-balanced game, and Pruitt scored 21 points but was hounded into seven of the Grizzlies’ 23 turnovers.

DENVER

Last week, Adams State and Fort Lewis College traded blows.

This time, the Grizzlies couldn’t climb back from the Skyhawks’ counterpunch.

Third-seeded FLC used a 14-2 run to get in front after trailing 11-4 early, and the Skyhawks never looked back from there, routing sixth-seeded Adams State 95-73 on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA South Central Region Tournament at the Auraria Event Center in Denver.

The Grizzlies (20-9) never found an answer for FLC’s spread-out offense; the Skyhawks attacked a tight defense off the dribble to the tune of a 48-36 advantage in points in the paint. And FLC burned a sagging defense by hitting 9 of 18 from 3. The result was a 62.7-percent shooting day for FLC, the fifth-best shooting performance in school history.

“Some days you’re, as they say, the proverbial bug, and some days you’re the windshield,” Adams State head coach Louis Wilson said. “(Saturday), we were the bug.”

FLC (22-7), which beat Adams State 70-69 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Shootout last weekend, built a gap of 21 points thanks to a 19-4 run in the first half, a run which put the Skyhawks up 41-20 en route to a 48-28 halftime lead.

The Grizzlies tried to answer by trimming the lead to 48-32 early in the second half, but back-to-back 3s by Nick Tomsick pushed the lead back out to 22, and FLC would lead by as many as 25 on the way to the school’s third-ever NCAA Tournament victory.

Tomsick was huge, scoring the first eight FLC points of the second half and finishing with 27 points.

“The rim felt pretty good (Saturday). The last few games at Metro it’s been really small, so it was good that it kind of opened up (Saturday),” Tomsick said. “It was good to get the first couple shots off my back and kind of get rolling.”

Defensively, the Skyhawks harried and hurried the Grizzlies into 23 turnovers against just 10 assists. Wilson said his team became a bit too individualistic, a bit too “NBA.” And that caused some breakdowns as the Grizzlies rushed to feed Kaimyn Pruitt, who for stretches was defended by smaller players. And that rush threw off their offense. The speed and recovery of the FLC defense played a role, too.

“I tell those guys never to reach, and they reached (Saturday), and it worked out,” FLC head coach Bob Hofman said with a smile.

“We talked in pregame about kind of collapsing on the drive and getting the ball out of Pruitt’s hands, instead of letting them get to the basket easy. We wanted to make them make 3s,” Tomsick said.

Marcus Ayala scored 16 points to go with four assists, four rebounds and four steals. Mike Matthews and Alex Herrera scored 12 apiece, while Wes McKenzie and Cade Kloster scored 10 to go with their typically high-energy play on both ends of the floor.

The FLC guards freed themselves up to get into the lane and built numbers’ advantages on offense thanks to their ability to beat traps in both full- and half-court situations and beat the Grizzlies off the dribble, leading to an array of layups and well-timed kickouts.

“Just being able to try and keep them spread out when they’re pressing and also trying to move the ball as much as possible,” Ayala said.

Pruitt scored 21 points on 8 of 12 shooting, but he was hampered by seven turnovers. And while crediting the skill of the Skyhawks’ defense, the senior took full ownership of his miscues.

“It was just some dumb turnovers that I had. ... A lot of times, it was just on me,” Pruitt said.

John Jackson had 18 for the Grizzlies, while Shaheed Young added 13 and Rodrigo Silva 10. The two teams split the season series 2-2, with the Skyhawks winning the final two games.

FLC will meet No. 2 seed St. Mary’s (San Antonio) in today’s regional semifinal. Tip is scheduled for 5 p.m. at Auraria Event Center, with the winner advancing to the Sweet 16.

St. Mary’s beat No. 7 Cameron (Texas) 75-57 in the second regional quarterfinal game Saturday in Denver.

“We’ve been to a lot of regionals ... there’s nothing better than being able to walk around after being successful in the first game,” Hofman said. “So we’re going to enjoy it, but we know we have a big task ahead (today).”

rowens@durangoherald.com