Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
Sometimes, all it takes is one good run.
Sunday, that run belonged to St. Mary’s.
The Rattlers went on a 12-0 run late in the first half, holding Fort Lewis College without a point for 8 minutes, 16 seconds, and from there, the third-seeded Skyhawks men’s basketball team never got closer than 10 points, ending its season with a 62-50 loss to No. 2 St. Mary’s in Round 2 of the NCAA South Central Region Tournament at the Auraria Event Center in Denver.
One day removed from shooting 62.7 percent from the field, FLC (22-8) couldn’t get its shots to fall, making just six field goals in the first half and shooting just 30.8 percent for the game.
The Rattlers (23-7) did their best to limit the ability of FLC’s guards to get into the lane, and even when the Skyhawks got good looks off of penetration, they had a tough time getting shots to drop.
“My two favorite words are defend and rebound, and I know it’s a cliché. ... I thought we did a great job with that (Sunday),” St. Mary’s head coach Jim Zeleznak said.
FLC led just once Sunday, pulling ahead 15-13 on two Torrey Udall free throws with 11:59 left in the first half. The Skyhawks were outscored 19-5 the rest of the way to fall behind 32-20 at halftime.
“Human nature possibly. (After a big win Saturday) – did we let down a little bit and weren’t as ready as we would’ve been? I don’t know. I just want to give them all the credit,” FLC head coach Bob Hofman said.
FLC fell behind by as many as 19 at 52-33 with 9:19 to play, then went on a 9-0 run from there to trim the lead to 52-42 with 4:54 remaining. The Rattlers, however, would weather the storm, pushing the lead back out to 14 at 58-44 after St. Mary’s broke the FLC press for an easy Kevin Kotzur dunk with 3:25 to go.
“We did have a short spurt where we came back, and we had them within 10 points, but then we couldn’t connect on the defensive end, which hurt us,” FLC guard Matthias Weissl said. “That was a very emotional stretch, I think. It looked good for us for a second, but then they just killed us when they had that dunk.”
Alex Herrera led the way for FLC, scoring 18 points, pulling in 12 rebounds and blocking five shots. The sophomore from Ignacio was 6 of 10 from the field and 6 of 7 from the free throw line. He was the only Skyhawk in double figures in their lowest scoring performance of the season.
“First off, that boy is a big boy, and he’s only a sophomore, so the (Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) has got trouble for the next two years, and so’s the nation,” Kotzur said.
Marcus Ayala and Nick Tomsick scored nine points apiece but had much tougher shooting nights than they did against Adams State, combining to shoot 5 of 22 from the field.
Kotzur was huge for the Rattlers, scoring 21 points and pulling in 15 rebounds, nine of them on the offensive glass. If he wasn’t scoring on putbacks, he was proficient in the high-low game the Rattlers used well, helping them slow the game down into a half-court battle for most of the evening and helping St. Mary’s lead 44-18 in points in the paint.
“We just ran our stuff. And when we did, we got buckets,” Kotzur said.
“They really had a good plan going in, and it’s something they’ve been doing all year and having great success at it in their league and then through this regional tournament,” Udall said. “(Kotzur) had such a good force down low as (Hofman) said. If you were lackadaisical for one second, when it hit the post, he had great position.”
Turnovers and atypically poor 3-point shooting doomed the Skyhawks. FLC turned it over 18 times against just seven assists, and the Skyhawks weren’t able to move the ball as easily as they had in Saturday’s win over Adams State. Partly as a result, FLC shot just 3 of 19 from 3.
“They’re a very, very strong defensive team. Give them all the credit. They played extremely well,” Hofman said. “I wish we had played better, but I think probably looking back, they made us play not as well as we would’ve liked.”
St. Mary’s will play top-seeded and third-ranked Metro State for the regional championship on the Roadrunners’ home court at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Metro State beat No. 4 Midwestern State 66-60 on Sunday.
No. 1 Colorado Mesa, ranked fourth in the country, will host No. 2 Midwestern State in the women’s final at 7 p.m. today in Grand Junction.
The loss brought to a close the collegiate careers of Ayala, Udall, Weissl and Matt Mazarei. Despite the way it ended, Udall was reflective in a positive way after the final horn sounded on his tenure as an FLC men’s basketball player – a tenure that for he and Weissl – both Roaring Fork High School alumni – included two NCAA Tournament appearances.
“The thing I value the most is that this program is just the same, day in and day out,” Udall said. “It never changes every year. It keeps the same integrity year to year. ... You’re going to make friends for life and memories, and I couldn’t really ask for more in five years.”