After the Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team was nearly upset last Friday against the University of the Southwest, head coach Bob Pietrack switched up his team’s jersey color scheme for Wednesday night’s non-conference matchup against its third consecutive NAIA foe, Haskell Indian Nations University.
Fort Lewis made 18-of-25 from the free throws and forced 17 turnovers, including 10 in the first half, en route to an 88-70 win. The improved free-throw effort came after FLC had missed 17 free throws Friday for the second time this season.
“We thought we had some witch voodoo on us with the free throws last week,” Pietrack said. “So, for the first time ever, we wore black uniforms at home to flip the script on the witch, and I think it worked.”
Senior forward Marquel Beasley led the way for FLC with a 25-point, seven-rebound performance. After he had opened the season with free-throw line struggles, he made 11-of-13 from the line after he had missed his first two of the game.
Four Skyhawks finished in double-figure scoring. Only 48 hours after being named Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week, Beasley went 3-of-7 from the floor, including 1-of-2 from beyond the arc.
Beasley said moving on from last week’s free-throw performance was the key Wednesday night.
“I think it was just me stepping up there and knocking them down like I said,” Beasley said. “Last week, it was pretty much just in my head and not focusing when I get up there. But I know I can knock them down, so it’s not a big factor.”
Besides the jersey swap, Pietrack was impressed with his team’s defense, as the Skyhawks scored 32 points off turnovers in the game including 20 in the first half.
“We’ve really put an emphasis on our defense in our non-conference practice and everything,” Pietrack said. “We have to be a better defensive team than we have been because we’re probably not going to score at the rate we have the last three years. I thought in the first half, we did a really good job of suffocating them and making them feel that they were playing a really good basketball team. In the second half, the defense wasn’t as good. But 24 assists and seven turnovers on the night is a recipe for success.”
The Skyhawks (4-1) got off to an early lead as they hit three of their first four 3-pointers. Midway through the first half, the Skyhawks went on a 16-6 run that was capped off with an Otas Iyekekpolor 3-pointer that made it 31-11 with 9:16 remaining in the half. The Skyhawks continued to cruise offensively, as senior guard Alex Semadeni was efficient with nine first-half points. He also had three assists, one of which was an alley-oop dunk to freshman forward Brendan La Rose. Semadeni finished the night with 14 points. His 5-0 run to end the first half had Fort Lewis up 52-31 at halftime.
The Skyhawks continued the offensive dominance in the second half, as Beasley opened with another 5-0 run. Haskell Indian Nations did have an impressive second-half performance in which they shot 48.3 percent from the field.
A standout for FLC was sophomore point guard Cesar Molina, who had 14 points on 4-of-6 shooting, including a four-point play early in the first half. Pietrack called Molina’s evening “his best collegiate performance.”
“I think at this level, it’s all about having each other’s back,” Molina said. “Having Riley (Farris) out of the game, I knew I had to step up, and my coaches and my teammates have given me the confidence to perform like I did, and it’s all about having each other’s back. I didn’t want to let anybody down, and I just wanted to show everybody that they can count on me.”
The game was well out of hand when a technical foul was assessed to Haskell’s Tristan Keah-Tigh after he stuck his foot out and attempted to trip Iyekekpolor when the players were heading to the benches for a media timeout.
“I just reminded them that tomorrow we’ve got Thanksgiving dinner at 3 o’clock, and I didn’t want anyone to be late to it,” Pietrack said. “No, I mean, what do you say, we dominated the game in every statistical category, and we got a lot of chances to play a lot of different players, and we didn’t need anything like that to ruin a great team performance ... Going forward, if we take care of the ball, make our free throws and guard, we’ll be in every game this year.”
Haskell (3-4) was led by Caison Green, who finished the night with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting, while Keah-Tigh had 13 points on 4-of-10 shooting.
The Skyhawks will begin Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference play with a three-game road trip beginning Saturday, Dec. 1, at Adams State University in Alamosa.
“I think our non-conference, we wanted to be 5-0, but obviously, we didn’t get there,” Semadeni said. “All we can do is keep looking forward and watch this game and just keep getting better. There were a lot of positives and negatives, and we’ll still have a lot to work on as we prepare for conference. The RMAC is a whole different war, so we’ve just got to keep looking at the film and keep getting better because the commitment is there.”