Western Colorado University stormed out to an early 19-6 lead. Fort Lewis College men’s basketball head coach Bob Pietrack called a timeout and told his team they weren’t playing hard enough. The Skyhawks responded.
FLC erased the deficit and took a 26-24 lead with 6 minutes, 30 seconds to go in the first half when Ignacio High alum Wyatt Hayes stole the ball and ran up the floor for a fastbreak layup. FLC would take a 35-34 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Monroe Porter would make two big 3-point shots early in the second half to reclaim the lead, but it was the heart of Fort Lewis College seniors Marquel Beasley, Otas Iyekekpolor and Alex Semadeni that sent the Skyhawks to a 72-63 victory Friday night inside Whalen Gymnasium. The win snapped a rare four-game home losing streak in Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference play for FLC.
“Western, we’re playing a rival tonight, and we knew we’d get their best shot, especially early,” Pietrack said. “Any win feels great. We do it for a lot of different reasons, but players and coaches want to taste some success.
“(The seniors) were excellent tonight. We talked about after last weekend that we want to play for the seniors. ...We’re playing for the seniors because this is their last stretch run and they had great leadership tonight and show why they’re champions. These are excellent guys, great players, good students who care about the college, care about each other, and I’m thankful to coach them.”
Beasley labored up and down the floor with a lower leg injury that has hindered him for weeks. But the senior forward from Illinois rose to the occasion whenever he was called on. He finished with a game-high 22 points.
“When I’m in that zone, I want them to keep feeding me the ball,” Beasley said. “I feel like nobody can stop me down there. That’s my type of ball game: play strong. If they can get it down there, I’m just gonna try to keep coming through for my team.”
It was free throws from Iyekekpolor that tied the game at 44-44 with 14:41 to play. Semadeni then made a 3, and FLC (8-8, 3-7 RMAC) never relinquished a lead from there.
FLC had a 52-44 lead when Iyekekpolor and junior guard A.J. Sparks had a heated exchange on the floor. Pietrack called a timeout, but the argument spilled over to the FLC bench. It was Beasley who calmed down both of the competitive players.
After the timeout, Beasley scored nine of the team’s next 10 points, as he put the team on his back on both ends of the floor. Semadeni then followed with a key layup and forced a Western turnover on the defensive end. Out of a media timeout, Semadeni scored on another layup, and FLC was able to hold on to the win from there. Semadeni finished with 10 points, a team-high eight rebounds, three steals and two assists.
“Our best success was going through our posts,” Semadeni said. “They were our No. 1 and 2 option tonight. I was trying to build off that, and I was trying to contribute in different ways with energy, defense, getting hands on balls, just trying to get energy in the building that way.”
Iyekekpolor helped FLC steal momentum in the first half when he rebounded a missed Beasley free-throw and slammed home a dunk. In the second half, he put an exclamation point on the win when he rebounded a missed Beasley shot and put back a two-hand dunk over two defenders. Iyekekpolor, a senior transfer, finished with 18 points and seven rebounds in his best conference game in an FLC jersey.
“It’s funny because coaches always preach ‘crash, crash, crash,’” Iyekekpolor said of his offensive rebounds and putback dunks. “Nine times out of 10, you don’t get the ball, but when you get the one, it’s rewarding.”
Sparks added 11 points for FLC. Porter led Western (3-13, 0-10 RMAC) with 16 points and 10 rebounds, while Jordan Ticeson had 14 off the bench. Western shot only 35 percent in the game, while FLC shot 48 percent.
Next up for FLC is rival Colorado Mesa University (12-4, 7-3 RMAC), which beat Adams State 79-74 on Friday night in Alamosa.
“The Mesa game is always one of the most fun games of the year,” Semadeni said. “You’re always up for that one. Usually the students come out and give us a good game and we’re all juiced and ready to go. It’s fun because it’s a Saturday night this year. Saturday night, it’s everything you got left for the week. You sell out and put it all on the line. You don’t need motivation for Mesa.”