Fort Lewis College carried some swagger into halftime after Will Wittman hit a tough 3-point shot before the buzzer that gave the Skyhawks a 33-25 lead on the road at Dixie State in St. George, Utah.
Everything changed in the second half, as Dixie State (10-8, 8-6 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) shut down the FLC men’s basketball team for a 63-53 victory.
“We just didn’t make any shots,” FLC head coach Bob Pietrack said. “We went 0-of-9 from 3 in the second half, missed free throws and the turnovers got us. And, Dixie is really good.”
After FLC (9-11, 4-10 RMAC) shot 43.3 percent in the first half and held Dixie State to 34.5 percent, FLC shot only 25 percent in the second half with six made shots from the floor. Dixie State shot 50 percent in the second half and made 4-of-9 from 3-point range.
The Skyhawks were held to only five points in the first 13 minutes of the second half, and the Trailblazers stormed past the Skyhawks to take a 40-38 lead with more than 11 minutes to go. That lead stretched to 47-38 with 7:09 to play before Pietrack called a timeout.
“We had a lull there for about 10 minutes that really cost us,” Pietrack said.
Out of the break, Marquel Beasley got a steal that led to a dunk, and then a Beasley offensive rebound led to a 1-of-2 trip at the foul line to get FLC within six points at 47-41 with 5:43 to play.
Beasley appeared to be fouled on the next trip down the floor as he went up against two defenders for a tough shot close to the basket. No foul was called, and Pietrack argued from the bench and picked up a technical foul. Zach Frampton made two free throws with 5:23 to go to stretch the lead to 49-41, and the Skyhawks were never within two possessions again.
“I’m just sick of Marquel battling like a warrior inside and not getting any calls,” Pietrack said. “He gets hammered inside and never gets anything.”
A Frampton 3-pointer with 4:16 to go gave the Trailblazers a double-digit lead at 52-41. FLC senior Alex Semadeni got hot and scored seven points in the final minutes, but it was too little, too late.
Beasley led FLC with 18 points, 10 of which came in the first half. He added five rebounds, while Semadeni led FLC with six rebounds
Kireed Johnson scored nine points, all in the first half. Wittman finished with seven.
FLC played largely without guard A.J. Sparks, who exited after three minutes with his nagging back injury. Pietrack said he is likely done for the remaining eight games of the season, meaning FLC is without its top-three point guards it entered the season with.
One week after senior forward Otas Iyekekpolor scored 17 and 19 points at Regis and Colorado Christian, respectively, he was held to only two points with a dunk in the game’s final minute. FLC lost despite winning the rebound battle 41-30.
“All three of these last road games, our guys are battling their tails off,” Pietrack said. “We haven’t had breaks go our way, but the effort is there from the team.”
Wade Miller scored 15 points off the bench for Dixie State. Matt Conway had 11 points and a game-high eight rebounds. Dub Price scored 10 points in the win.
FLC will travel to face Westminster College at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Salt Lake City. Neither team has found the success that led them to a RMAC regular-season championship chase in 2018, in which FLC beat the Griffins to win the title. This year, Westminster is 7-11 overall and 5-9 in conference play.
“(Sparks) was our leading assist guy on the team. Without him, it changes us a bit,” Pietrack said. “We’re down more guards than normal, but we have to figure out how to play. We’ll adjust.”