Park University was simply no match for the Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team.
In the final non-conference game of the regular season, the NCAA Division II Skyhawks completely outclassed the NAIA opponent out of Gilbert, Arizona. FLC had a 55-23 lead at halftime behind a focused defensive effort and solid offensive execution. As FLC worked in its younger role players in the second half, FLC was able to close out the game for a 97-59 victory Saturday inside Whalen Gymnasium in Durango.
The win improved Fort Lewis to 6-0. Six wins in November are a new program record, and it is the first 6-0 start for FLC since 1977.
“We talked about it a little today in shoot-around,” FLC head coach Bob Pietrack said. “We really don’t talk about winning and losing too much in our program, but we know that start hadn’t been matched in 42 years, and it was something that as the week went on we didn’t bring up to the team, but as we got into the day it helped with the focus.
“It’s a big deal anytime you have something that’s lasted 42 years and other teams have had 41 tries at it. It’s in the record book. It’s pretty cool. But that said, it doesn’t mean much come Friday. It turns over to 0-0. For someone that’s been in the program as long as I have and how much the program means to everybody, to match that ’77 team with the 6-0 start is special for this group, especially considering the disappointing season we’re coming off of.”
It was a sharp showing for an FLC team that wanted to build momentum ahead of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference opener at 7:30 p.m. Friday against defending conference tournament champion New Mexico Highlands (5-0).
“We know how good they are,” Pietrack said. “They’re an undefeated team. This is why you play college basketball, to play the big game. A lot of respect for Highlands, and we’re looking forward to the challenge and sure they are, too.”
Riley Farris led the Skyhawks on Saturday with 23 points and nine rebounds. Sophomore forward Brenden Boatwright grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds, and he added seven points.
“I go against Boatwright every day, and I’m telling you, he’s an absolute horse in there,” Farris said of his success scoring in the post. “He makes me better every day I go against him. Give a lot of credit to Boat.”
FLC freshman guard Junior Garbrah added 17 points, with 12 of those scored in the second half. Sophomore forward Brendan La Rose had 11 points, four assists and four rebounds. Freshman guard Akuel Kot added 10 points and five assists with starting point guard Logan Hokanson out to rest a wrist injury. Danny Garrick and Will Wittman each had nine points in the win for FLC.
“I know I can play, the coaches know I can play. I show it every day in practice when we compete,” Garbrah said. “Getting the opportunity, hoping Logan gets well, but when given the opportunity, I always try to seize it and step up.”
FLC raced out to a 7-0 lead and pushed it to 15-4 and 25-9 early in the first half. The Skyhawks put on a clinic all over the court in the opening 20 minutes, as they drew charges in volume, forced 10 turnovers, closed out to collect rebounds and dominated with a 24-8 advantage scoring in the paint.
“We really tried to get better defensively this week in practice,” Pietrack said. “You can guard in practice and get better but it has to translate to the game.”
Park University (2-7) made a mistake by playing center Tyson Berringer with two fouls early. He picked up his third with more than nine minutes to go in the first half. With his inside presence gone, FLC cooked the Buccaneers inside the rest of the first half. Farris scored nine of his 16 first-half points with Berringer on the bench, and the entire FLC team felt confident driving inside and finishing at the rim.
The shooting of Eric Patten was the only facet of the game Park University could lean on in the first half. He was 7-of-13 from the field, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range, as he scored 17 points. Patten hustled all over the floor and finished with a game-high 30 points on 12-of-27 shooting.
Berringer would foul out with 8:50 to go in the game. He finished with only two points and two rebounds.
FLC played a young lineup the final 10 minutes. Boatwright was the anchor along with La Rose. Garbrah and fellow freshman Luke Ptak joined sophomore Andrew Ludwig, who played a career-high in minutes with 16:11. Ptak, a freshman from Derby, England, made his FLC debut.
Pietrack said he was still unsure if Hokanson would return to the lineup for Friday night’s showdown with New Mexico Highlands. Regardless, the healthy Skyhawks roster will need to be ready to deal with a Cowboys team that has yet to lose this season and boasts two of the best guards in the conference. The showdown of undefeated teams to open the conference schedule is expected to be a quality showdown, as both will enter with similar resumes.
“We feel really good. We feel really confident in what we’re doing. Coaches and players, we’re all on the same page,” Farris said. “It’s time to climb the mountain now. The real season starts now. We gotta keep moving forward.”