Marquel Beasley put the 20th-ranked team in the country on his back Saturday night and carried it to a win.
With No. 20 Fort Lewis College and University of Colorado-Colorado Springs tied at 70 with 5 minutes, 30 seconds to go, Beasley scored eight points and grabbed two key rebounds to help send the Skyhawks to a 85-76 win at Whalen Gymnasium in Durango, where the Skyhawks remained unbeaten at 10-0 at home this season.
Beasley finished with an FLC career-high 33 points to go with 10 rebounds, two steals, one assist and one block in 35 minutes on the floor. He had only two fouls and shot 11-of-16 from the field and 10-of-13 from the foul line.
“If we don’t have Quel, we don’t win, simple as that,” FLC senior forward Rasmus Bach said.
The win was big on a night in which Metro State and Colorado Mines both lost. Mines fell at home, 78-73, to Westminster, and Metro State lost 80-62 at Adams State to go 0-2 on the weekend. FLC is now in sole possession of first place in the RMAC as the only one-loss team.
The Skyhawks (13-2, 9-1 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) came out in a miserable funk offensively one night after a key 94-88 win against Metro State. Through the first three minutes of play, FLC trailed the Mountain Lions 14-2 and had accumulated two technical fouls, with one against Bach and another against Daniel Hernandez. Both fouls came as the seniors chirped at referees after being hit hard with no call.
Beasley got the team back on track with a bucket, and Collin Weaver got the team back into the game with nine points off the bench in a five-minute stretch. Beasley and Weaver played one year together at Iowa Western Junior College before taking different paths to FLC.
“Beasley was a monster,” Pietrack said. “Absolutely another monster out there. We loaded up on his shoulders and he carried us. I thought Weaver gave us some big minutes off the bench, too. With Beasley, it isn’t normally how we have to win where you have to put it on one guy to be so dominant, but tonight we needed it.”
Hernandez battled foul trouble all night. After he torched Metro State for a career-high 24 points Friday night, Hernandez was only on the floor for 16 minutes Saturday. He scored seven points, had three assists and was great when he was on the floor, but it wasn’t long enough. He fouled out with a little less than three minutes to play but had picked up his fourth with 12 minutes to go and was a non-factor down the stretch aside from one big alley-oop pass to Beasley for a two-hand dunk that gave FLC a 78-70 lead to cap an 8-0 run.
“They always tell me to stay right there, short corner, and I knew (Hernandez) was gonna drive,” Beasley said. “I just told him to throw it up, and he found me down there.”
UCCS (5-10, 2-7 RMAC) answered back, as Elijah Ross hit a 3-pointer and was fouled. He converted the free throw for a four-point play that cut FLC’s lead in half. But Bach got a big bucket to answer back, and Brandon Wilson drew a key charge against UCCS forward Jonathan Barnes that helped put the game away.
“We flat out played poorly,” Pietrack said. “I thought Colorado Springs played well, and I credit them for playing well and being prepared on the back end, but I thought that was as bad of an effort as we’ve had. We are tough enough and skilled enough and at home, so we figured it out, but that wasn’t very good basketball on our end.”
FLC only had three players in double-figure scoring, a rarity as the team has routinely had five to seven guys hit double digits this season. Bach finished with 13 points and four rebounds but was held without an assist while he turned it over five times.
DJ Miles scored 10 points but only shot 3-of-10 from the field and 1-of-6 from 3, though he made a big 3 in the game’s final few minutes.
“We certainly did a good job on some of their weapons, but the balance Fort Lewis brings is that a lot of guys can step up any given night,” UCCS head coach Jeff Culver said. “That was the case and point tonight. (Beasley) was a beast all around the basket. He hit the one shot outside, but he was really cleaning up on the glass with double-digit boards and getting us in foul trouble. He was taking it strong to the hole, and we didn’t have any answers.”
Ross led UCCS with 20 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals. Padiet Wang added 19 points, five rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
FLC outrebounded the tough-rebounding Mountain Lions 39-35, including 12-10 on the offensive glass. The Skyhawks also forced 19 turnovers that led to 26 points.
In the end, the difference maker in the game was Beasley.
“I knew we started out slow and knew somebody had to bring some energy,” Beasley said. “I thought I’d be that guy and came out very aggressive.
“It was really scrappy. They have some real tough big guys down there, and I know everybody wasn’t having a good game tonight, but I found a way to step up.”
After five consecutive home games at Whalen Gymnasium, where Pietrack is now 42-1 in his two-plus years coaching the Skyhawks, FLC will hit the road for the next four games and eight out of the next 12. The trip starts in South Dakota at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Black Hills State.
“This four-game trip is very difficult,” Pietrack said. “We have to be road warriors, play team basketball and do our best on the road here.”