Fort Lewis College was eager to show off its new team to its home fans Wednesday night. The Skyhawks delivered in a big way.
After a close opening nine minutes of play Wednesday inside Whalen Gymnasium, FLC went on a 12-0 run behind a pair of bank shots from Marquel Beasley, a dunk from Riley Farris and a steal and layup by Cesar Molina to take a 21-9 lead. The Skyhawks kept running to a 34-16 halftime advantage. The lead ballooned to as large as 30 points before FLC (2-1) went on to win 83-60 in its first home game of the season.
“A good team win to establish our home court and make sure people around the country know that if they’re gonna come here that they’re in for a war,” said FLC fourth-year head coach Bob Pietrack, who is now 49-2 all time inside Whalen Gymnasium.
Beasley finished with a team-high 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting that included 2-of-4 from 3-point territory. He added three rebounds. After he picked up his third foul with a little more than 15 minutes to play, Beasley went to the bench for roughly three minutes with the Skyhawks up only 43-29.
Northern New Mexico’s hope of a comeback ended quickly even with Beasley still on the bench, as Ibrahima Diagne was whistled for a technical foul for slamming the ball after being called for a shooting foul on FLC senior Alex Semadeni. Mike Ranson made two technical free throws, and Semadeni made two free throws for the shooting foul, and FLC’s lead suddenly was 52-32 with 14:48 to play. The Eagles (3-4) never got the deficit to less than 20 points again.
Beasley made sure of that, as he closed out the game in strong fashion by helping push the FLC lead to 30 points in a four-minute stretch once he checked back into the game with a little more than 11 minutes to play.
“I just wanted to come in and be a guy to bring energy off the bench. I was dealing with the three fouls, and it was just being a senior, closing the game out in a late situation,” Beasley said.
FLC fans were delighted to see senior Otas Iyekekpolor for the first time. The senior transfer from Central Arkansas dazzled with highlight reel dunks and defensive prowess. He finished with 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting and a 5-of-6 effort at the foul line. He also had four rebounds in his first career game inside Whalen Gymnasium.
“It’s definitely a great experience, especially the fans here, they really support us,” Iyekekpolor said. “As a team, we played together and we really encouraged each other. When guys weren’t in, they were on the bench encouraging each other. When guys were in, they were talking, so for a first experience in the Whalen, a great atmosphere and a great team game.”
FLC junior forward Riley Farris added 14 points and six rebounds in only 19 minutes of action, as the Skyhawks monitored his minutes while he continues to play through a left shoulder injury.
Farris played with tenacity in the early going and helped set the tone for the game.
“Everybody’s been doubting me anywhere and everywhere, so I’m just trying to prove a point this year that I can be dominant and do what I can do out there on the floor,” Farris said.
Alex Semadeni turned in another all-around effort for the Skyhawks. The senior was a grinder all night and worked his way to nine points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals.
Semadeni’s effort was symbolic of FLC’s big defensive night, as the Skyhawks held the Eagles to 35.5 percent shooting in the game and a dreadful 17.9 percent (5-of-28) in the first half.
“I’m really happy with our guys the first half defensively and how locked in we were,” Pietrack said. “We showed spurts that we can be really good defensively, and we rebounded the ball. We really suffocated them in every area of their offense. When we have our full roster, I think we can be a good team. It just depends on how quickly this team can gel together, but it will happen. We will have a very good team this year, it just depends on when it’s gonna happen.”
The Skyhawks were able to get some revenge after an exhibition loss two weeks ago at Northern New Mexico, a game the Eagles count toward their record while the Skyhawks do not. FLC did not have its full roster for the exhibition and did not run their full offensive sets to avoid providing early-season game film for opening weekend opponents Eastern New Mexico and Western New Mexico. At halftime, Northern New Mexico coach Ryan Cordova said FLC looked different than when they met in Espanola a few weeks earlier.
“We wanted to beat them really bad because of what happened at Northern,” Farris said. “Everything they were saying and doing, we wanted to make a statement tonight as a team that we are who we say we are.”
Naquwan Solomon, a guard from Brooklyn, New York, led the Eagles with a game-high 25 points and a team-best seven rebounds. Bryce Simmons added 19 points and four assists in the losing effort.
The Eagles shot only 4-of-24 from 3-point range, while the Skyhawks shot only 3-of-16 from 3.
FLC didn’t need the 3-point shot Wednesday night, as points in the paint came in bunches with a big lineup on the floor. Ranson played much of the game at point guard and didn’t turn the ball over once, while Molina had his best game as a Skyhawk with seven points, four assists, three rebounds and three steals with only one turnover. Semadeni, who at times played power forward last season, was able to play his more natural position as the shooting guard, while Beasley played the small forward and Farris and Iyekekpolor played in the post.
No matter the rotation, FLC had a big lineup on the floor. True freshman Brendan La Rose delivered in the paint with four points on a pair of offensive rebound put-back layups, and he added eight rebounds. Brendan Boatwright, a redshirt freshman, scored eight points down low, too.
“We went bigger in the second half and it was a lineup I really enjoyed,” Pietrack said. “We just haven’t had a chance to practice much with any of the lineups because of injuries. Now that we got Farris back in practice we’re gonna try to do some different things. The energy tonight, I thought Otas brought such great energy. He really carried us when things were murky in the beginning. He checked in, and the energy just rose. I thought he had a great first game in the Whalen and think the fans will gravitate toward him.
“We really appreciate Riley playing through the shoulder injury. Riley really hasn’t practiced the last three weeks and has played three games now where he’s been instrumental in our program. There’s an old line in our program that the only one that can guard Farris is me when I don’t play him enough. Obviously, we’re gonna need Riley in every possible way to get to our goals this year.”
Next up, FLC will host University of the Southwest (1-4), another talented small college out of New Mexico that played Lone Star Conference powers Angelo State and Tarleton State tough on the road last weekend.
“Every game helps us answer the question to what our team will look like,” Pietrack said. “We got another piece of the puzzle tonight while we try to formulate what our team will be when we go on the road to start league play. We’ve got two more games at home to try to figure out exactly what we’re gonna be when we get to league.”