Rasmus Bach thought he had the game-winning shot, the game-winning rebound and the game-winning free throws in regulation. CJ Davis made the Skyhawks wait for a celebration.
No. 14 Fort Lewis College found itself in another Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference rivalry slugfest Saturday night in Grand Junction against Colorado Mesa University. The two teams combined for five technical fouls and 92 free-throw attempts, but the game was decided on the floor, as FLC held on for a 94-89 win Saturday night at Brownson Arena.
Bach hit a go-ahead shot with 16.1 seconds to go in regulation, and that gave the Skyhawks a 80-79 lead. Colorado Mesa’s Connor Nichols attempted a shot from the free-throw line the next trip down, but it clanked off the back iron and Bach controlled the rebound. He was fouled and made both free throws to put FLC up 82-79 with two seconds to play.
The Mavericks inbounded the ball deep down the floor, and the ball found the hands of Davis at the top of the 3-point line. He gathered the ball, jumped and put up a prayer of a shot that banked off the glass and through the hoop to tie the game at 82 at the regulation buzzer.
Colorado Mesa raced out to an 87-82 overtime lead, but Alex Semadeni sparked the Skyhawks with a pair of free throws followed by a rare 3-point make. Semadeni scored nine points in overtime.
“In the three years I’ve been the head coach with (associate head coach Daniel Steffensen), we’ve had a lot of great wins,” FLC head coach Bob Pietrack said. “But we are as proud of our effort tonight as we’ve ever been. For us to be able to tough out this win against our rival in a brutal environment, we showed championship heart.”
With the win, FLC (21-3, 17-2 RMAC) clinched the right to host the RMAC tournament in Durango. FLC has a three-game lead on the next postseason-eligible team in Regis University (19-5, 13-5 RMAC) and owns the tiebreaker against the Rangers thanks to a season sweep of the Denver-area team. Still, FLC is hoping to win a regular-season conference championship, and Westminster College is still only one game back of FLC. However, Westminster is not eligible for the postseason in its final year of a transition period from NAIA to NCAA Division II.
“There is no way we don’t host the conference tournament,” Pietrack said. “But, for us right now, we’re not worried about anything except we all know who the next game is (Colorado Mines). All we can think about is that game, and we’ll be ready for that.”
Saturday’s game was the second overtime win this season for FLC against Colorado Mesa and the team’s fourth overtime win overall. It’s the first time in program history the Skyhawks have swept CMU in back-to-back seasons.
Colorado Mesa (11-14, 7-12 RMAC) looked as if it might win the game in regulation. The Mavericks worked the clock after a Bach layup cut the Mavericks’ lead to 79-78 with 1:05 to play. The Mavericks tried a 3-pointer that hit off the back of the iron, and Mavericks guard Emilio Acedo got an offensive rebound. The Mavericks could have worked the clock and left FLC only seven seconds, but Acedo drove into the paint where he ran into FLC senior center Brandon Wilson, who drew a charge to give back the ball to FLC. Bach connected on his shot to give FLC the lead before Davis’ heroics.
“We’ve talked all year long about how we need everybody. That’s been the theme all year,” Pietrack said. “We needed everybody tonight. We had some unbelievable foul trouble. It was such a chess game for (Steffensen) and I to keep moving pieces, playing lineups that normally don’t play together.
“Alex in overtime was special. Rasmus Bach, he was just excellent and was a star when we needed it really bad. Kane Martinez gave us big defensive stops and bridged a gap when (Marquel Beasley) got hurt with an ankle and had to sit for a bit. Wilson, he’s been a championship warrior for two straight years. The junkyard dog. It took everyone.”
FLC shot 51 free throws in the game and made 42, while Colorado Mesa was 37-of-41 from the foul line. FLC took an extra eight free throws on technical foul calls against the Mavericks, with three of those technical fouls coming in the second half.
CMU head coach Andy Shantz was ejected with 10:13 to play in the second half, and FLC took a 62-56 lead after his ejection. Shantz received a technical earlier in the game for arguing a call while Riley Farris was at the free-throw line for FLC, and he was called for another when he argued with a referee during a video review to determine if his own player, Davis, should shoot two or three free throws for a foul on FLC.
Longtime CMU head coach Jim Heaps, now an assistant for the Mavericks, took over for Shantz and put the Mavericks in position to win.
Both teams dealt with foul trouble. Beasley and Daniel Hernandez fouled out for FLC, while Acedo, Davis, Brandon Hoffer and Kolton Peterson all fouled out for the Mavericks. “It was very choppy tonight,” Pietrack said. “Not pointing fingers at anybody or the refs, it was just a very choppy game, and sometimes basketball happens that way, especially on the back-end when players are tired from the night before. To make 42-of-51 free throws is so hard, and I’m extremely proud of the guys.”
Bach finished with 23 points, nine rebounds, five assists, one block and one steal for FLC. Hernandez finished with 19 points, including a halfcourt 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer that cut the Colorado Mesa lead to 37-36 at the break.
Semadeni finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots in his biggest performance yet for the Skyhawks. Wilson added 10 points and nine rebounds.
Damon Dubots led the Mavericks with 22 points and nine rebounds. Davis finished with 19 points, five rebounds and four assists. Nichols added 18 points, and Acadeo had 17 points.
Next up for FLC is the game it circled on its calendar at the beginning of the season, as the Skyhawks will travel to Golden for a 8 p.m. Friday tipoff against Colorado School of Mines. Colorado Mines beat FLC in all three meetings a year ago to win the conference’s regular-season title, conference tournament championship and eliminate FLC from the NCAA Tournament in the second round.