A beaten and bruised Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team is fresh off its biggest win of the season. The Skyhawks have returned home for four consecutive games, but it will come against elite competition.
FLC (7-6, 2-5 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) will host University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (8-5, 5-2 RMAC) on Friday and Colorado School of Mines (10-3, 7-0 RMAC) on Saturday. Both games are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Whalen Gymnasium on the FLC campus.
The Skyhawks will try to carry some momentum after a 100-88 overtime win at Chadron State last Saturday night in Nebraska, when senior Alex Semadeni scored 37 points, including 10 in overtime and three 3-pointers in the game’s final 32 seconds of regulation to force overtime.
“(Semadeni) had a great game,” FLC head coach Bob Pietrack said. “He’s had a lot of great games, and that one ended up being an opportunity for a special night. But in this league, the ocean waves keep coming. There’s not much time to enjoy anything. We got back to get ready for the next wave of teams. This weekend’s matchups are extremely challenging for us. We gotta get healthy and put our best foot forward and see where it goes.”
FLC will be far from healthy for this weekend, but that’s nothing new for a team that’s been snake-bit by injuries all season. Senior Marquel Beasley has played through injury to score 17.4 points per game, while he has also hauled in 6.1 rebounds per contest. Semadeni is second on the team at 12.5 points per game and a team-high 6.2 rebounds per contest.
Though FLC is only 2-5 in conference, three of those losses have come in overtime. The Skyhawks’ success has come from playing defense this year, as the team has given up only 73.5 points per game. This weekend, FLC will host a pair of teams averaging more than 82 points per game.
First up Friday is UCCS, coached by Jeff Culver and led by junior forward Ben Avdili’s 13.8 points per game, while Padiet Wang, a 6-foot-4 junior guard, has averaged 12.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per contest.
“Padiet Wang has developed into a wonderful player,” Pietrack said. “It’s a tribute to their program and how they develop players. Offensively and defensively, he’s a very good player who is an issue for every team in the league.”
Both UCCS and Mines have five players who have averaged more than 10 points per game. Mines, which has won nine consecutive games and is in first place in the RMAC, has been led by guards Mason Baker and Ben Sonnefeld, who have averaged 14.4 points per game. Senior center Ben Clare has contributed 11.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, while sophomore forward Michael Glen has given the team averages of 10.5 points and 6.8 rebounds.
“It really starts with their coaching staff. They have a hall of fame coach,” Pietrack said of Mines’ coach Pryor Orser. “Then they have a great point guard and a great post player, and all their other players are excellent.”
Mines also shoots an RMAC-best 43 percent from 3-point range, which ranks sixth in all of NCAA Division II. FLC has defended the 3 well, while it has held teams to 31.3 percent. Pietrack said the key will be rebounding and not giving the Orediggers second chances.
Though Mines and FLC have competed head-to-head for the conference championship the previous three seasons, FLC is in a different position going into this weekend’s matchup, and Pietrack said FLC has yet to discuss Mines.
“Right now, we’re just trying to win one game Friday against Springs,” Pietrack said. “When you’re 2-5 in conference, the only thing you can focus on is trying to play your very best. We put all our energy into trying to be the best team we can be Friday. Saturday will come regardless of how you do, and we know we have to see two top-end teams.
“There’s no place like home, and anything beats being on the road. We’re ready to play in front of the home fans and, hopefully, get a little momentum after last week’s win.”