Fort Lewis College put on an offensive clinic in the first half, and the hot shooting could not be controlled by the CSU-Pueblo ThunderWolves.
The No. 17 Skyhawks raced out to a 32-16 lead that grew to 22 points before the ThunderWolves bit back a bit to cut FLC’s lead to 52-36 at halftime.
FLC (19-3, 16-2 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) was able to hold on to its early lead and cruised to a 95-61 win Saturday night at Whalen Gymnasium in Durango. FLC is now 13-0 at home this season with only one home game remaining on the regular-season schedule.
“The support from our community in this gym feels good,” said FLC senior guard DJ Miles. “With the home fans behind us, anything is possible at this point. It feels good to play at Whalen.”
FLC shot 63.3 percent from the field in the first half, including a 6-of-8 performance from behind the 3-point line. The hot shooting continued in the second half, as FLC finished the game shooting 60.3 percent.
Miles started 4-for-4 and had 13 points in a flash thanks to a trio of 3-pointers. Riley Farris had a big first half off the bench, as the sophomore forward scored 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting. FLC senior center Daniel Hernandez did his part, too, with 12 first-half points on 4-of-5 shooting.
The Skyhawks didn’t slow down in the second half and provided plenty for fans to cheer about in a blowout contest. Hernandez was unstoppable driving in the paint. When he got a steal and ran the floor he looked prime to convert a third consecutive layup. Instead, he tossed the ball up hard off the glass for a massive alley-oop dunk to Marquel Beasley that brought the house down. Beasley earned a steal the next time down and went coast-to-coast for a layup that led to a CSU-Pueblo timeout with the Skyhawks leading 64-40.
“We don’t practice it,” FLC head coach Bob Pietrack said of the alley-oop. “As a coach, we want to put the guys in the best position to be successful, but we want them to have a lot of fun. Our guys tonight, there was blood in the water, and they were having fun.”
Hernandez finished with 19 points. Miles added 18 points and four assists. Brandon Wilson added 13 points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals before he fouled out. Farris finished with 16 points and four rebounds.
“When Hernandez is going downhill, he’s a very good player,” Pietrack said. “He’s special. And for us to have five guys in double figures and to spread the minutes, our focus was the best it’s been all season.”
Beasley added 14 points and nine rebounds. He scored nine points in the second half, including two big dunks, none bigger than the alley-oop from Hernandez.
“When you got a guy like Quel and you see him running, you just gotta throw it up and hope he flushes it,” Miles said. “When he does, the team and crowd, we all get hyped.”
The dunk had two effects, as it energized FLC and seemingly demoralized the ThunderWolves.
CSU-Pueblo’s Will Newman battled foul trouble all night. He picked up three in the first half and a fourth quickly in the second half. He played only 18 minutes and was held to three points.
“It changed the whole dynamic of the game,” Pietrack said of Newman’s foul trouble. “He’s one of the best players in the league. Getting him in foul trouble was a big difference, and we took advantage of it.”
The ThunderWolves (10-13, 7-10 RMAC) were held to 35 percent shooting (21-of-60) in the game and 8-of-23 shooting from 3-point range. No CSU-Pueblo player reached double-digit scoring, as Jason Anderson led the team with nine points.
“In basketball, when shots go in for you, you guard better,” Pietrack said. “Offensive makes bring energy, and that’s what happened tonight.”
The Skyhawks own a one-game lead on Westminster for the conference lead and a four-game lead on the next postseason eligible team, Metro State. The RMAC Shootout tournament looks as though it will be held in Durango, with only five games to go in the regular season.
FLC will hit the road for the next four games with a tricky road trip next weekend at Western State and at Colorado Mesa.
“These are tough geographical rivals,” Pietrack said. “We played Western to overtime here and Mesa to overtime in a good game here. We have to be laser focused like we were tonight and bring the show on the road.
“We can’t drop a game, and we know it.”