Tied 68-68 with one minute to play, the Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team couldn’t make the winning plays to knock off a nationally-ranked team.
The Skyhawks (13-12, 7-12 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) never wavered until the final minute Saturday night in St. George, Utah, against No. 15 Dixie State University (21-4, 16-3 RMAC). Dixie State senior point guard Jack Pagenkopf hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 46 seconds to play to give the host Trailblazers a 71-68 lead and himself a career-high 27 points on senior night. Paired with the play of senior Hunter Schofield, who had 19 points and six rebounds, the Trailblazers were able to surge to a 73-69 win to send FLC to a sixth consecutive loss.
“They made that big 3 when the game was tied. That was a huge shot,” FLC head coach Bob Pietrack said. “That shot goes off and we get the rebound and who knows.
“I’m proud of our guys’ effort. We have a lot of pride in our program. Sports are just like life, there are ups and downs. Obviously, we are in a down right now. We have a lot of people who care hugely, coaches and players. We really wanted this game tonight not just for us but for everyone back home. We wanted it, and we fought hard. It’s disappointing not to be able to finish it. We were so close.”
FLC went 0-of-3 from the field after Corey Seng made a putback layup with 52 seconds to play to tie the game at 68-68. Riley Farris, who had a team-high 21 points for FLC, had two good looks at 3-pointers to tie the game from the top of the arc, but both attempts went long off the back of the rim. Point guard Logan Hokanson tried a layup with 10 seconds to play to try to cut Dixie State’s lead to 72-71, but his shot was off the mark, as he anticipated a shot blocker to contest the layup.
“Dixie State is a really good defensive team,” Pietrack said. “They made it tough.”
Farris was 8-of-18 shooting and went 0-of-6 from the field in the final seven minutes of the game. He started the game 1-of-5 from the free throw line but finished 3-of-7, as he made two key free throws to get FLC a 66-61 lead with four minutes to play.
But Pagenkopf would answer back with a layup with a foul. After he made the free throw to tie the game at 66-66, Farris missed two consecutive contested shots, and he would be called for a tough offensive foul the next time down the floor as his feet got tangled with Schofield’s and the Dixie State player fell to the ground to draw a whistle.
Two Pagenkopf free throws gave Dixie State a 68-66 lead before Seng’s big offensive rebound and putback layup tied it once more. Though Dixie State went 2-of-4 at the foul line in the final 23 seconds, it played good enough defense to secure the win.
The play of Pagenkopf and Schofield on their senior night in a big arena was tough for FLC to overcome.
“It’s the best environment in our league, a Division I environment,” Pietrack said, referencing Dixie State’s move to D-I next year to join the Western Athletic Conference. “We have the youngest team in the league with only one senior, and our guys are growing a lot. Though this game stings horrible, this entire team will be back next year with the exception of our one senior. Our team is good, and we will get our program back to where it should be. We have a lot of good people here, and we’re getting better. The results aren’t there, but the belief in each other is there.”
FLC held a 34-27 halftime lead behind 11 points from Farris, who sat the final eight minutes because of foul trouble, and a 5-of-11 showing from 3-point range. Four different players connected on 3s in the first half, and Seng opened the game with a 3 and was 2-for-2 from long range in the first half. He finished with 13 points and eight rebounds. “Seng is really giving us a spark,” Pietrack said. “He’s an exciting player, and we’re thankful to have him. He’s really earned his stripes. We love having him, and he will be a captain-type next year, which is awesome for him.”
Will Wittman added nine points and 10 rebounds for FLC. Danny Garrick, FLC’s lone senior, finished with seven points on 2-of-4 shooting from 3. Hokanson had only two points but finished with seven assists.
In a rarity this season, FLC won the rebound battle 34-31, especially encouraging against one of the tallest teams in the RMAC.
FLC did have 19 costly turnovers and went only 8-of-17 at the foul line.
“If we make a couple of more free throws, we would have had that ball game,” Pietrack said. “We played really hard. As a coach and staff, all you can ask for is to play hard.”
FLC has three games left with two at home Friday and Saturday against rivals Colorado Mesa University and Western Colorado. The following Saturday, FLC will make a trip to Adams State to close the season.
“We’ve got the three games with our geographical rivals left,” Pietrack said. “We will prepare hard for each game and try to send Danny Garrick out a winner and try to build some momentum for this team going into the offseason.”