The next two weeks will go a long way to determine the chances the Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team will have at making the eight-team Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament. Luckily for the Skyhawks, the next four games are at home.
“The four home games coming up, you can circle all of them,” FLC head coach Bob Pietrack said after his team’s loss last Saturday at Colorado Mesa University. “The tale of our season will be made in those four games. It’s not a coach putting pressure on the team, it’s just being honest.”
Pietrack knows his team is beginning to play better basketball. Despite a 1-3 record in a four-game road trip, FLC (11-6, 5-6 RMAC) is only one game out of a tie for eighth place in the conference and has a tiebreaker advantage against two teams – South Dakota Mines and CSU-Pueblo – ahead of it in the standings. Still, the Skyhawks are one of four teams sitting at 5-6, and three teams are 6-5. The crowded middle of the standings will become more sorted out over the coming weeks.
“When you look at the conference standings and where we’re at, it’s very apparent we have to play well at home,” Pietrack said. “We’ve lost two home games, but we’ve got two back on the road. There are 11 games left, six are at home. There’s a logjam of teams trying to get in the RMAC tournament. We’re a dangerous team if we get in that because we can score, we’re young and we’re only going to get better by that point in the season. We have a lot to play for, and we can’t wait to get home after this double road trip that is so difficult for all the teams. Let’s see if we can get home and blossom these next two weeks.”
FLC will look to get it started at 7:30 p.m. Friday against Regis (10-7, 5-6 RMAC) before Colorado Christian University (1-16, 1-10 RMAC) will visit at the same time Saturday. The following weekend, its a tough home series with Dixie State (14-3, 9-2 RMAC) and Westminster College (10-7, 5-6 RMAC).
For FLC, the second-highest scoring team in the conference at 84.8 points per game, the key is how it will play on defense. After the Skyhawks allowed Colorado Mesa to go 18-of-23 from 3-point range last Saturday, this week’s focus in practice has been taking away opponent 3-point shooting, as FLC has had an RMAC-high 164 shots from 3 made against it this season.
Luckily, this weekend’s opponents both have shot 34% or worse from behind the 3-point line.
“We’re giving up 10 made 3’s per game. We have to try to find a way to cut people’s 3-point shooting,” Pietrack said. “We’re able to score it, but we can’t keep people from making 3’s. We’ve been focused on that this week and trying to keep teams under 75 points. If we give up 75 or under, we have a great chance. When we don’t, we’re in trouble.”
FLC’s offense has been paced by junior forward Riley Farris. He is now tied for the RMAC lead in scoring at 24.8 points per game and has done it on 59.8% shooting from the field, the third-best mark in the conference. Farris also has been a better rebounded of late with 6.1 per game.
The Skyhawks have a tough task of stopping another elite guard Friday in Regis’ Christian Little. The senior captain has scored 15 points per game to go with 32 assists and 30 steals in 16 games played. He’s also an elite offensive rebounder with an average of 5.3 total rebounds per game.
Forward Toni Rocak is also a tough matchup presented from Regis. He has averaged 14.2 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds per game. Brian Dawson has also added 11.8 points per game and shot 40.4% from 4-point range (21-of-52).
“Little has given us problems three straight years,” Pietrack said. “He’s strong, very experienced and has been on very good teams. Everything starts and stops with him, and he will get a lot of attention from us. I’m not sure we have the answers, but we will try to stay in front of him the best we can, but the whole league hasn’t done a very good job of that the last four years.
“Turning to Rocak, he’s big and strong and has expanded his game off the dribble and developed into another first-team all-conference caliber player.”
Colorado Christian will bring Spencer Hoffman and Jake Hornic, who both average 13.5 points per game. Hoffman has added 6.3 rebounds per contest and shoots 60% from the field. But Christian has allowed teams to shoot an RMAC-high 50.5% from the field. FLC will look to avoid tired legs Saturday and capitalize against the Cougars’ defense.
Along with Farris, FLC has received 12.8 points per game from freshman Akuel Kot along with 10.4 from Will Wittman and 9.9 from Danny Garrick, who also has more than six rebounds per game. Freshman guard Junior Garbrah has continued his strong play off the bench and has averaged 7.9 points per game.
FLC also has seen junior point guard Logan Hokanson return to his offensive form in recent weeks after a wrist injury greatly limited him the first half of the season. Not only is he starting to score, but he is in the top-five in assists in the RMAC and has the second-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the league.
“We’re starting to play better basketball,” Pietrack said. “That four game road trip we were on against the teams we played and looking at their home records, that was an extremely difficult four games. Coming home, it’s time to hold home court. We have a lot of good teams coming in, and we have to start it one game at a time with a Regis team that is very capable in our league.
“We are excited to be home, and we haven’t played at home with our students on campus since the Highlands CSU-Pueblo weekend back on the first week of December. We are looking forward to a great environment in Whalen for good college basketball.”