The Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team has one more test before the No. 23 Skyhawks begin their quest for a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference title.
The Skyhawks will host Johnson & Wales University, an NAIA program from Denver, in their nonconference finale at 3 p.m. Saturday at Whalen Gymnasium in Durango.
The Wildcats are searching for their first win of the season, and eight of their 11 losses have come to members of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
“Their record is a little deceiving because they’ve had to play everybody on the road because they’re an NAIA school and they have to take the guaranteed games,” FLC head coach Bob Pietrack said. “They’ve played some teams in our league really close. They lost to South Dakota Mines by two (points) and one to Black Hills State, and they’ve played some of the other (RMAC) teams close for a half.”
Fort Lewis (2-1), ranked in the NABC Top 25 for a program record 30 consecutive weeks, hasn’t seen the court since beating Northern New Mexico 95-81 on Nov. 16. Pietrack said the last week of practice has been focused on cleaning up some of the mistakes the Skyhawks had in their first three games and solidifying the lineup heading into the RMAC opener, which will be on the road Dec. 1 at Colorado State University-Pueblo.
“We’re trying to get better, and we’ve been a work in progress over the month of November, and we kind of knew we would be,” Pietrack said. “We really want to start solidifying some roles and use this game as a momentum builder going into the league season starting next week.”
Entering the season, the Skyhawks expected to have a balanced scoring attack with multiple players averaging double digits, and that has been the case through the first few games of the season.
Five players have averaged double figures so far. Rasmus Bach, who has a chance to become FLC’s all-time leading scorer, leads the team with 15.3 points per game, followed by DJ Miles (13.0), Marquel Beasley (12.3), Daniel Hernandez (10.3) and Riley Farris (10.3).
FLC will be without guard Collin Weaver, who has been dealing with a knee injury.
The Wildcats have been led this season by a pair of junior guards in Jontrell Herman and Andrew Romero III. The duo has accounted for nearly 50 percent of the team’s points this season, with Romero leading the team with 24.8 points per game and Herman averaging 19.6 points per game.
They also are the team’s top two rebounders – Romero has grabbed 6.6 boards per game while Herman has snagged 5.9 rebounds per game – and both average 39 minutes per game.
“They have two very good players at the guard, led by Andrew Romero. He’ll be the focal point of what we’re doing (on defense) and trying to keep him from going bonkers,” Pietrack said.
Offensively, the Skyhawks will have a distinct size advantage on the Wildcats, who list four players on its roster at 6-foot-5 or taller. The Wildcats should get a boost from the return of 6-foot-7 senior Bryson Sharpley, who missed the first 10 games of the season and made his first appearance in Friday’s 91-57 loss to New Mexico Highlands. He scored 10 points and had six rebounds in the loss.
“We want to get the ball inside and try to take advantage of the skill player we have on the inside,” Pietrack said.
Anchoring the inside presence for the Skyhawks will be Beasley, Farris and 6-foot-9 senior center Brandon Wilson, who has averaged 8.3 points and a team high 9.3 rebounds per game.