Fort Lewis College didn’t lose a game at home all season, until Saturday.
The Regis University Rangers got in front early, held off the No. 25 Skyhawks’ best run and secured an 88-80 win in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament championship game to win its first RMAC tournament championship in program history.
“This was a really emotion game,” said Regis head coach Brady Bergeson. “It wan an intense game. We were in a hostile environment. Fort Lewis deserves a huge amount of credit for their season, the regular-season championship that we wanted and they got and they absolutely deserved it, and we had to come to their place as a result. They don’t lose much here. Give our guys credit for doing that.”
FLC (24-6) played in its third consecutive RMAC tournament championship game and the eighth since 2002. The Skyhawks earned the right to host the RMAC tournament at Whalen Gymnasium in Durango by winning the RMAC regular season championship, but the second-seed Rangers (26-5) had better legs in Saturday’s tournament finale and it showed in the final minutes of the game. Regis has now won 14 consecutive games.
Both teams now will prepare for the NCAA South Central Region tournament, as brackets will be released at 8:30 p.m. Sunday.
“I’d just like to congratulate Regis. They played a great game. They are a worthy RMAC tournament champion,” said FLC head coach Bob Pietrack. “They are on a great streak right now. They played better than we did tonight.
“I told my guys in the locker room there’s nothing we need to be hanging our heads about. We’ve had an awesome year, regular-season championship, 16-1 home record, fought through the rigorous RMAC schedule and we’re a champion ourselves. We’ll get back to practice on Monday and look forward to the real season, which is the NCAA regional and see if we can’t make a run at the regional.”
Regis took an early lead but FLC stormed back to tie the game at 40-40 in the final minute of the half. Regis, looking for the last shot, lost control of the ball, and Jarrett Brodbeck, the tournament MVP, dove on the floor for the ball and got away with a travel. Both teams dove on the floor to try to gather the ball, and the shot-clock buzzer went off. The referees reviewed the play and awarded the ball to Regis with a jump ball call with 6.8 seconds on the game clock and one second on the shot clock. Regis inbounded the ball to Avonte Nelms, who missed a layup, but Christian Little was there to rebound it and make a shot to give Regis a 42-40 lead at halftime.
Regis’ lead grew to 60-53 in the second half after FLC junior forward Alex Semadeni was called for a technical foul. Semadeni was hammered under the basket, didn’t get a foul call and said a magic word that led to a referee whistling Semadeni for a technical.
But FLC went on a 10-0 run to take the lead, as Rasmus Bach converted a traditional three-point play at the foul line. Then DJ Miles hit a pair of free throws and a 3-point shot to give FLC a 61-60 lead, followed by a Marquel Beasley layup that pushed the advantage to 63-60.
A Little layup for Regis got the Rangers back within one point. A Miles layup made it 65-62 FLC, but then Brodbeck hit the shot of the tournament.
With a defender all over him and time ticking down on the shot clock, Brodbeck drilled a 3 to tie the game at 65-all. Little made two free throws, and a Ty McGee layup stretched the lead to 73-67 with 4:50 to play in the game. Regis never trailed again.
“He’s done that a lot,” Bergeson said of Brodbeck’s big shot.
Brodbeck finished with 27 points and five rebounds. He made 5-of-11 shots from 3 and all eight of his free throws.
“Three years in the RMAC, this is our first (win) here,” Brodbeck said. “It took a lot of effort. It’s crazy. They were all on us and we knew that coming in. We had to keep our composure and keep as one.”
McGee finished with 21 points and seven rebounds. Little finished with 17 points and five rebounds for Regis. Both were named to the all-tournament team. Avonte Nelms added 13 points and nine rebounds. RMAC Defensive Player of the Year Dexter Sienko fouled out with more than three minutes left in the game. He finished with six points and six rebounds.
FLC was led by Miles’ 20 points, as he made 7-of-16 shots from the field. Beasley added 17 points and 10 rebounds.
“Trying to respond to Regis and tough buckets they were hitting,” Beasley said of his effort. “Trying to stay involved on the court, hustling, poking balls out, getting loose balls, they were the better team.”
Bach finished with 14 points and eight rebounds in his final game inside Whalen Gymnasium, where the team has gone 46-2 the last three seasons.
“He leaves Whalen Gymnasium as the winningest player in Fort Lewis history,” Pietrack said. “He’s going to go down as one of the best players that’s ever played here. I hope our crowd enjoyed him the last four years as much as I have. He has his best basketball ahead of him in Texas.”
Brandon Wilson added 16 points and nine rebounds in another strong game for the senior center.
FLC battled injuries with several key players dinged up and Riley Farris unable to give significant minutes off the bench. A semifinal battle with Adams State University on Friday seemed to take a toll on the Skyhawks, who shot 46.9 percent from the field in the game and made only 14-of-23 free throws.
“We were a little banged up tonight, but that doesn’t take away from Regis’ performance,” Pietrack said. “Last night was a rivalry game, a very good game, and they were big and strong and we were a little tired tonight and a little shorthanded with some of the bumps and bruises, especially with Farris being less than 100 percent. It doesn’t take away from Regis. We’ll get back to practice and get going.”
Beasley and Bach were named to the all-tournament team for FLC, along with Adams State guard Brandon Sly.
FLC and Regis will find out their NCAA tournament fate Sunday night, and there is a possibility the two teams will meet Saturday in the first round.
“It’s hard to beat a team three times, especially a team as good as Regis,” Pietrack said. “We just need to stay together as a group, understand that one loss isn’t gonna define our season. We’ve had a special season. Any time you can win a championship ring in this league, it’s been a special year. We’re just gonna keep moving forward. Fortunately for us, the selection show is on Sunday and everybody starts their season 0-0 and it’s a race for six games.”