Jordan Carter and Alyssa Yocky put on a clinic for a packed house of women’s college basketball fans on a special night inside Whalen Gymnasium.
Despite a sluggish start, the Fort Lewis College Skyhawks (1-2) put away the Northern New Mexico Eagles (1-6) behind the play of their two starting forwards. FLC picked up its first win of the season, 92-46, in the team’s home opener. The game was played in front of a packed crowd for Nike N7 night to honor Native American Heritage Month and encourage education through athletics in Native American communities.
“It’s more of a testament and reward to our players,” FLC head coach Jason Flores said. “We’ve been able to be good for a little while. We’ve got great kids. We’ve been talking about how people are gonna want to watch them. Obviously, the night and what it represented brought fans and brought people together, and this is what it’s all about.”
Carter scored a game-high 21 points in only 16 minutes on the floor. She delivered 11 in the first half and 10 in the opening 3 minutes, 40 seconds of the third quarter. She was 9-of-10 shooting an went 3-of-3 at the foul line. Carter also had six rebounds, three on each end of the floor, in the win.
“A lot of those points come from just running,” Carter said. “The turnovers were a huge factor for me scoring. It all comes from my team, Kayla (Herrera), Sydney (Candelaria) looking for me, all the other guards looking for me as I’m getting in front of the defense. That’s where those came from, and that’s something we’re focusing on this year as posts.”
Yocky was all over the floor and gave the Skyhawks a 4-3 lead it wouldn’t relinquish. She went on a personal 6-0 run in the first quarter with a rebound and put-back layup, two free throws and a steal that led to another transition layup. Yocky finished with only those six points, but she added five assists, four steals and three rebounds. Many of her assists went to Carter.
“It’s really great to play with Alyssa because she does have a great court sense,” Carter said. “When she’s not scoring, she’s looking for other players, and when she has it open, we can all trust her with the ball. It’s great to have a teammate like that.”
FLC built an 18-7 lead after one quarter behind a pair of 3-pointers from Tanisha Begay and Kaitlyn Romero. After a 27.3 percent shooting performance from the field in the first quarter, FLC found a rhythm in the second quarter and shot 39 percent. Aubre Fortner and Romero scored nine points each in the game for FLC, while Candelaria added eight.
The offensive improvement largely came thanks to FLC’s defense, as the Skyhawks forced the Eagles into 17 turnovers in the first half.
Yocky continually intercepted passes into the post when the Eagles tried to run a pick and roll offense. Herrera added four steals to go with four assists and 12 rebounds to help make up for an 0-for-8 shooting night from the field. She had three points, all at the foul line.
“Our defense gets our offense rolling,” Herrera said. “It’s fun when we force turnovers. It picks up our energy and makes us play better on the offensive end of the floor.”
The Skyhawks were one of 11 colleges across the country that teamed with the Nike N7 foundation to promote education through athletes in Native American and Aboriginal communities. The FLC women’s team has six players of Native American descent. FLC wore turquoise jerseys, while members of the Navajo and Southern Ute tribes were honored throughout the evening.
“I think it was great for the Native American community,” Herrera said. “There were a lot of fans here tonight. It felt great to support all our various tribes.”
The event helped deliver a packed house, and fans were treated to a show from the Skyhawks.
“Coming out here for N7 night is a really big thing,” said Begay, who finished with nine points and five rebounds. “Playing for yourself, your background, my town and representing who I am, that’s one of the big things for N7. I feel like the fans out here tonight were really supportive. I’m so thankful for them because without them we wouldn’t have this type of atmosphere and energy today that we did.”
Melanie Secody, a Shiprock High alumna and former teammate of Begay, led the Eagles with 11 points before she fouled out. She turned the ball over six times. Kayla Salazar had 10 points and a team-high eight rebounds.
Begay enjoyed a chance to play many familiar faces on a Northern New Mexico team loaded with talent from the Gallup, Kirtland and Shiprock areas.
“It’s more of a mentality where you have to stay disciplined and not lose focus because ‘Oh I’m guarding this person.’ It’s more like, ‘What am I gonna do to lock down and play defense, and how am I gonna help my team to make sure we get good coverage and work together,’” Begay said.
Up next, the Skyhawks will host the University of the Southwest Mustangs at 5:30 p.m. Friday. FLC will try to build on the win after two tough losses on the road to open the season, with an overtime defeat to Western New Mexico and a narrow loss in the fourth quarter to a tough Eastern New Mexico squad.
“There was no panic,” Flores said of his team after the two losses. “Our steps are gonna come really fast with this team. ... As long as we came back, start getting some wins and get momentum going for ourselves, that’s our charge is how good can we be Friday and then go from there. We got a lot of big things coming up with a whole long season to go, so we weren’t gonna let opening weekend derail us on anything we want to accomplish.”