A team that needs to win the rest of its home games this season found a way Friday night.
The Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team rallied from a pair of 10-point deficits and then held off a late surge to secure an 80-79 home win Friday night against Regis inside Whalen Gymnasium in Durango.
Regis (10-8, 5-7 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) got the ball near its own bench with 11 seconds to play down 80-77. The Rangers were able to get up a long 3-point attempt, but it came up short. Senior guard Christian Little got the rebound and put in a quick layup with 0.2 seconds to play, but FLC (12-6, 6-6 RMAC) was able to inbound the ball and hear the buzzer sound to hang on for a massive victory.
“Man, we really needed that game,” FLC head coach Bob Pietrack said. “We still gotta go to their place, so we couldn’t drop the home one. They are one of the teams fighting to get in just like us, so it was really important for us to get it. I thought it was a very good college basketball game. We were just a point better tonight.”
FLC junior forward Riley Farris had defensive hands on him all night but still scored a game-high 26 points for FLC. He also had a game-high 11 rebounds, as he has answered the call of Pietrack in recent games of being more aggressive when it comes to rebounding.
“It definitely took a bit to adjust to how they were playing,” Farris said. “The way they play defense is very good, and the way they prepare is very good. I know we need (rebounding) to win. They’ve been preaching it all year. I just need to get in there and do it. I feel like I’ve been putting more effort toward it and it’s starting to show.”
Freshman guard Akuel Kot had a monster game off the bench for the Skyhawks. He scored 23 points on 7-of-10 shooting, 2-of-2 from behind the 3-point line, and he made all seven of his free throws.
“He stepped up and was great. We needed to do a better job on him,” Regis head coach Brady Bergeson said of Kot. “We knew all about him, and we let him get a little bit loose there and stepped up big for them.”
Regis stars Little and Toni Rocak each picked up their fourth personal foul with more than 10 minutes to play and had to go to the bench until after the under-eight minute media timeout. That allowed FLC to assert itself.
“That was huge,” Pietrack said. “Having Little in foul trouble and for him to only play 29 minutes and not 36 could have been the difference in the game because he was awfully good tonight. Really proud of our team. There was that stretch in the second half under 10 minutes where we had been in those games ... tonight, because we had learned, we were ready to win that game I felt.”
With the game tied at 58-58 with 9 minutes, 45 seconds to go, Farris got to the foul line and made two to give FLC a 60-58 lead. Kot would make a tough layup moments later.
Kot scored on a pair of big jump shots at the shot-clock buzzer for FLC. The first was a 3 with 4:37 to play that gave FLC a 74-65 lead. A mid-range jumper at the buzzer with 2:40 to play had FLC in front 76-67.
“Just being patient and trusting your work,” Kot said of why he is so calm in buzzer-beating situations. “I knew I could hit those shots. Just be patient and just trust it.”
But the press defense of Regis forced a few critical FLC turnovers, and Little once again showed his all-conference talent to help Regis get back in the game. Donald Gipson of Regis would make a 3 to get the Rangers within 76-72, but more free-throw shooting from Kot and a two-hand dunk from Farris helped FLC close out the game.
Little finished with 19 points, four assists and four rebounds for Regis. Rocak had 21 points and eight rebounds to go with four assists and three steals. Gipson added 17 points for the Rangers.
FLC got a big boost off the bench from Corey Seng, who Pietrack said has played four quality games in a row and will continue to see good minutes. He had only four points but also had two big steals before he fouled out, and he played solid perimeter defense that helped FLC hold Regis to 7-of-22 shooting from 3.
“He’s been outstanding. Even with the fouls, fine. It doesn’t matter. He’s playing that hard, and that’s what we need,” Pietrack said of Seng. “I thought he and Brendan La Rose, even though they had nine fouls in only (24 minutes), we need that physicality to our team, and those guys brought it tonight.”
Will Wittman had an all-around game for the Skyhawks with nine points, six rebounds, four assists and four blocks. Junior Garbrah added seven points and three assists.
Wittman made all three of his shots, including a pair of 3s. With Regis up nine points, Wittman hit a big shot that kept FLC in the game, and Pietrack called it a game-changing kind of shot.
FLC will try to get back above .500 in conference play at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at home against Colorado Christian (1-18, 1-11 RMAC), which lost 101-82 at Adams State (7-12, 5-7 RMAC) on Friday. FLC will try to avoid a letdown like it had the last time it was home for back-to-back games at the beginning of the month when it beat Metro State (9-9, 5-7 RMAC) but fell the next night to Chadron State (3-16, 2-11 RMAC).
“This league is just so hard,” Pietrack said. “Every win is just gold. We’re back to 6-6, got five at home and five on the road with 10 to go. I will speak on our program. Last year, we won 12 games, which was a difficult time for us. Now, we’re 12-6. Although we’re not exactly where we really want to be, sometimes you have to stop and see how much improvement you’ve had. We’ve had a lot of improvement.”