Loose isn’t quite a strong enough word to illustrate the Skyhawks’ mood at Thursday’s practice, given all the laughs and jokes going around.
Typically a jovial bunch anyway, the Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team has good reason to smile after a key road victory over Colorado Mines, part of what’s now a seven-game winning streak.
The only team in the league that’s hotter right now? Metro State, which brings a 10-game streak to town with first place on the line at 7:30 p.m. today.
That fact, however, hasn’t detracted from the Skyhawks’ good time. The streak coinsides with FLC’s return to health after several players, including key cogs DeAndre Lansdowne, David Kanyinda and Matt Morris, battled nagging injuries earlier in the season. Now healthy, FLC is reaping the benefits.
“We’ve got the nagging injuries out of the way, especially after losing two of three and that Christmas break,” Morris said. “It got everybody’s mind thinking, and everybody came back ready and more prepared and more focused than we’ve ever been.”
Tonight’s affair promises to be a stark contrast in styles.
FLC head coach Bob Hofman said the Roadrunners’ first-year head coach, Derrick Clark, has kept Metro State playing the same half-court, defensive-minded style it used for years under legendary coach Mike Dunlap. But Hofman also expects some new wrinkles this season, wrinkles Clark picked up as an assistant under former University of Colorado and current Wake Forest head coach Jeff Bzdelik for three seasons.
“He has his team right now playing harder than any team in the league. ... You can tell that he’s still got the Metro style, but he’s got a lot of different wrinkles that I’m sure he got in his, I believe, seven years away from Metro,” Hofman said.
On paper, the two teams seem to be the yin to the other’s yang:
b Metro State is fifth nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 59 points per game, while FLC scores 85.5 points per game, good for 14th in the nation.
b FLC tops the RMAC with a 1.3 assist-to-turnover ratio, while Metro State is fourth in the league with 8.1 steals per game.
It’s the Skyhawks’ rediscovered propensity for sharing the basketball that’s pushed them within a game of the league’s top spot. During the winning streak, FLC is averaging 20.4 assists per game, three above its season average.
“Everybody kind of realizes maybe it’s not someone’s night ... and I think a big part of the success is people realizing our main goal is to win the game,” Behrens said.
They’ll have to share the ball without the services of point guard Dorian Williams tonight. Hofman said Williams’ mother is experiencing health issues, and his return date is unknown. Hofman benched Williams in a blowout win over Western N.M.
The victory over Mines in Golden undoubtedly was the biggest of the bunch, given the fact it was a road game against a squad tied with FLC in the standings at the time. It, perhaps more than any other, gave the Skyhawks reason to be brimming with confidence heading into what should be their toughest test to date.
“As we win a game, we gain confidence, and we’ve got to keep that confidence up,” Behrens said.