Marquel Beasley torched Western State Colorado University, and the rest of the Skyhawks flocked behind him to open the conference tournament.
Beasley, a junior forward from Rock Island, Illinois, put on a show Tuesday night and led FLC to an 88-73 victory in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinals at Whalen Gymnasium in Durango. He scored 17 points in the first half to give the No. 25 Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team a 39-26 halftime lead against the Mountaineers. When the Mountaineers climbed back to within 44-39 with a little less than 16 minutes to play, Beasley paired with center Brandon Wilson to restore the Skyhawks’ double-digit lead.
Wilson scored six consecutive points to give FLC a 52-41 lead with 13 minutes to play, and Beasley then made three dunks in a row that ignited the FLC crowd and gave the team a 65-50 lead with 9:50 to play. He kept rolling to the finish, as he scored a game-high and career-high 36 points in the win.
“I had to take some aggression out,” Beasley said. “It was real fun. The atmosphere here was just fun for a Tuesday. I’m looking to bring that into the weekend.”
Now, top-seed FLC will host the semifinals and championship game of the RMAC tournament. Fourth-seed Adams State University will meet the Skyhawks at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The other semifinal at 5:30 p.m. Friday will feature second-seed Regis and third-seed Colorado School of Mines.
Adams State (17-12) beat fifth-seed Metro State 64-61 on Tuesday in Alamosa. Regis (24-5) beat Black Hills State 78-66 in Denver and Mines (21-7) beat University of Colorado-Colorado Springs 95-83 in Golden.
Fort Lewis (23-5) never trailed in the game and maintained a double-digit lead the majority of Tuesday’s game. FLC shot 53.8 percent from the field and held Western State to 44.3 percent, including a 31-percent first half.
FLC’s stout defense led to offensive success. The Skyhawks had 10 steals, led by Beasley’s three. Western State committed 17 turnovers and had only 15 assists in the game.
Beasley scored his 36 points on 14-of-17 shooting with most every shot coming at the rim with five thunderous dunks. He also went 8-of-9 at the foul line and hauled in four rebounds, two on each end of the floor.
“I’m gonna have to talk to Marquel about only having four rebounds. He took an off night,” FLC head coach Bob Pietrack joked. “What a stud he was tonight. We knew we had an advantage with Marquel, and we wanted to exploit it, but we didn’t know it would work out quite like that. The second half of the season, he’s been brilliant. We’re going to keep feeding him, but we’ve had a different guy every night step up for us.”
Western State (13-16) was on the wrong end against an angry Skyhawks team fueled by what they perceived as disrespect from the rest of the conference when All-RMAC awards were announced Tuesday. FLC was shut out of the four major awards and only had one first-team selection in senior forward Rasmus Bach.
Bach finished with 14 points, five assists and three rebounds. He also had three steals. His alley-oop pass to Beasley sent the crowd into a frenzy, and he hit a big dunk and 3-pointer of his own in clutch moments of the second half.
“We were a little disrespected,” Bach said. “We saw the RMAC teams, and I think I kind of got it just because of my name. I’ve had a worse season statistically than last season. When Western started coming back, we set an edge and wanted to prove to everybody that we’re the best team in this league.”
Wilson finished with 12 points and nine rebounds for FLC. He added a block and had four offensive rebounds.
“Wilson has been outstanding for two straight years,” Pietrack said. “In 60 games, he gives us all he’s got every game. He rebounds and does all the little things.”
Ben Beauchamp led Western State with 17 points. Collin Smith added 12, while Monroe Porter had 10 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
Next up for FLC is a showdown with Adams State. The Grizzlies beat FLC 107-93 last Tuesday, and the Skyhawks are eager for another chance at the regional rival.
“They punked us at their place, and that hurt,” Bach said. “They’re gonna come in here and fight. We better be ready for it.”
After Tuesday’s highlight-reel showing, Beasley hopes he did enough for the FLC students to show up in force this weekend. The students leave for spring break after classes Friday.
“I hope this brings them back,” he said. “They need to find their way back up in here this weekend.”