CANYON, Texas – After two years with a magical NCAA Division II tournament victory, the Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team will try to forget its showing this year.
Texas A&M Commerce shot lights out from 3-point range out of halftime and bullied the Skyhawks into 20 turnovers that led to 33 points in a 78-62 victory in the opening round of the South Central Region Tournament Saturday night at the First United Bank Center in Canyon, Texas.
“The 20 turnovers is very uncharacteristic,” FLC head coach Bob Pietrack said. “I’m sure it’s a season high; it may be a high the last five years, probably. ... Their pressure really bothered us. We can’t simulate that type of pressure in practice. Once we got it in (the post), we didn’t make very good decisions with it. That’s just the way it goes. They converted the turnovers to points, which made us really pay.”
FLC (24-7) jumped out to an early seven-point lead, but the tide turned when DJ Miles was whistled for a technical foul with five minutes gone in the first half. He had opened the game with two big baskets and five early points, but when he was only able to play nine minutes in the first half, the Lions jumped all over the Skyhawks and built a double-digit lead. The technical came after the referees missed a goaltend on Commerce (22-8) and a foul on the other end. The sequence of events was devastating for FLC.
“It took us out of rhythm, for sure,” Pietrack said of Miles’ technical. “We need DJ on the floor. We really didn’t have a true point guard this year. When DJ left the game in the first half and we had to play musical chairs with the subbing, that hurt our rhythm, but you’re not going to win a regional game turning the ball over 20 times and missing six free throws. Tip your hat to Commerce. Next time we’re here, we are gonna have to play better.”
FLC was able to cut the deficit to 42-35 at halftime, but the 3-point barrage for Texas A&M Commerce had only begun, as the Lions made 4-of-6 from 3 out of halftime to build a 19-point lead. With the Lions’ hot shooting, FLC had no chance to come back in a game played in a gym filled with the chants and music from the Lions’ band.
The Lions, a team that entered the game having made only 33 percent of its 3-point attempts all season, made 12-of-32 from 3 to build a commanding lead that reached 20 points with 9:38 to play in the game.
“There are a lot of positive things hopefully we can carry over from tonight,” said Lions’ head coach Jaret van Rosenberg. “Turnovers, we turned the ball over eight times. That’s a recipe for winning. We were able to get 20 more shots because we forced some turnovers.”
FLC, which entered the game hoping to get offensive makes to limit the Lions’ speed and transition ability, played a strong game in the half-court defense in the first half, but eight FLC turnovers in the half turned into 14 points for the Lions.
The Skyhawks switched from a zone defense to a press midway through the second half to try to cut back into the Lions’ lead, but whistles routinely went against FLC. Though the team never gave in, the mountain was too tall to climb in the Texas storm.
“It seemed like every time we started crawling our way back, they hit a big 3,” said FLC senior guard Daniel Hernandez. “It was just their night. They were hitting some big shots, even some role players were hitting some big shots. It’s just how the dice rolled out today.”
Hernandez led FLC with 17 points. Marquel Beasley added 14 points and nine rebounds.
“It was just playing my type of ball game,” Beasley said. “I like playing above the rim, being aggressive and playing strong. I’m glad I got to play my ball game, it just didn’t come out how we wanted as a team.”
Rasmus Bach finished with nine points to finish 20 points shy of DeAndre Lansdowne’s career scoring record.
“Ras had just a wonderful five-year career,” Pietrack said. “He represents everything that is right with Division II athletics as far as the student-athlete can be concerned. He’s a wonderful young man to coach, a great representative of our college, and we’re gonna miss all of these seniors.”
Willie Rooks and Joseph Williams-Powell led the Lions with 15 points each. FLC held Reggie Reid, the Lions’ leading scorer, to nine points, but Trey Conrod scored 14 and Dorion Armstrong added 10.
Commerce played tournament host West Texas A&M Sunday in the semifinals and lost 93-70. No. 3 Regis and No. 2 Texas-Permian Basin played into four overtimes in the other semifinal, with UTPB winning 130-124 to eliminate the last RMAC team in the tournament.
Now, the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference regular-season champion Skyhawks will head into the offseason looking to replace five key seniors.
“Looking back, we did not play our best game of the year, obviously,” Pietrack said. “I’m proud of our team for the season accomplishments they’ve had throughout the season and thankful for our five seniors that stuck with us and led the way for us. Sixty-four teams get to the NCAA tournament, only one gets to win their last game. That doesn’t take away from the season we had. Moving forward, we lose a lot from our team. We’re going to have to rely heavily on (Beasley and Alex Semadeni) for leadership as we try to reload and get back next year.
“It’s difficult to get here, especially in this region. It’s a loaded region with some very good teams. ... Our expectations won’t change even though we lose five really good players. We’ll have a very solid recruiting class and figure out a way to get back here again.”