A win against Colorado Mesa University on Friday night would go a long way to ease some of the pain felt by this year’s Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team.
The arch rival Mavericks (16-9, 12-7 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) will visit the Skyhawks (13-12, 7-12 RMAC) at 7:30 p.m. Friday on Bob Hofman Court inside Whalen Gymnasium. FLC is eager to break a six-game losing streak with a chance to set fourth-place Colorado Mesa back a game in the RMAC standings.
For FLC, there would be no better way to break the losing streak than against the Mavericks in a white-out game inside Whalen in which the first 1,300 fans through the doors will receive a white shirt to wear during the game. Fans also will notice a few upgrades inside the gymnasium this weekend.
“Spirits are high, and it’s a big game as far as rivalries go,” FLC head coach Bob Pietrack said. “Our team is searching for some type of signature win for this season. Our season is on borrowed time now. Any way we can get a signature win to make the year better, that’s what we’re looking for.”
Last time FLC played the Mavericks Jan. 18 in Grand Junction, the Skyhawks were stunned by 18 made 3-pointers from the home team in a 105-91 loss. The 18-of-23 performance from long range set Colorado Mesa records.
Colorado Mesa will enter the game with five players who average double-digit scoring. Team leader Tommy Nuno has averaged 14.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. He scored 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting earlier this season against FLC. Georgie Dancer has averaged 12.5 points per game, and he scored 23 against FLC behind 6-of-6 shooting from 3-point range in the previous meeting. Jared Small, who has averaged 11.3 points per game, also made 6-of-6 from 3 last time out against the Skyhawks.
Colorado Mesa has made shots at an RMAC-leading 52.2% rate this season.
“I think we have to focus on concepts more than on specific players,” Pietrack said of his team’s defensive strategy. “We don’t want them to make 18 3s like last time if possible. That’s not a recipe for winning. They are so good on their ball screen stuff. For us, it’s how we are doing to guard that and prevent the layups. Offensively, they are really, really good shooting 52% from the field, 43% from 3 and they make their free throws. We have our hands full with them.”
FLC also has to be aware of senior guard Michael Skinner, who has averaged 11.6 points and six rebounds per game. Then there is Ethan Richardson, a 6-foot-10 transfer who had committed to West Virginia but never played for the Mountaineers before he joined the Mavericks this semester. He has started the last two games for Mesa. In 11 games this year, he has averaged 11.1 points per game and has shown elite offensive efficiency with 67% shooting from the field and 80% at the foul line. Richardson missed the last game against FLC because of illness.
“Richardson is an all-league caliber player,” Pietrack said. “Nuno, Dancer and Skinner, they are very good players. They are a top-four team in our league right now. If they have Richardson the whole year, who knows how dangerous they can be.”
FLC defense showed great improvement last week in a brutally tough road trip in Utah. FLC’s offense went flat at Westminster in a 75-62 loss Friday, and the Skyhawks gave No. 13 Dixie State all it could handle in a 73-69 loss Saturday night. Those games were the first time FLC had held an opponent under 75 points since Jan. 17 against Western Colorado. Pietrack liked his team’s game plan going into the Utah trip and said his team simply didn’t make enough shots to be on the winning side of those games.
Offense has rarely been a problem for the Skyhawks this season. FLC has averaged 82.9 points per game to rank second in the conference. FLC has shot 49% as a team, which ranks third in the RMAC.
FLC junior forward Riley Farris is tied for second in the conference with 23.9 points per game on 56.1% shooting. He also has led FLC with 5.7 rebounds per game. Freshman guard Akuel Kot has 12.5 points per game, and junior Will Wittman comes in with 10 points per game. Danny Garrick, FLC’s lone senior, has 9.8 points per game this season.
“We have got to play well offensively, get the crowd behind us and get that defensive energy from the crowd,” Pietrack said.
Saturday night, FLC will honor Garrick on senior night against Western Colorado (11-14, 8-11 RMAC). The Mountaineers have won four of their last five games, including a season sweep of Regis. But Western Colorado is only 1-10 on the road this season.
“They are heading in the right direction and have taken care of home court well all year long,” Pietrack said. “They are also a hard team to guard because they make a lot of 3s. We have to keep them off the 3-point line and can’t let them make everything.”
FLC will hope for a boost from the home crowd in these two games before a season finale Feb. 28 at Adams State. With the white-out game Friday and some new upgrades inside Whalen to show off to the fans, Pietrack expects the team to play at a high level.
“The white-out game is always a good game for us regardless of who we are playing,” Pietrack said. “Our guys are excited to be home after spending a lot of this month on the road. To play well in front of our fans is our focus. We are a very young team and will have almost everybody coming back next year. We want to give Garrick the good feeling of winning as many times as we can here and try to find some momentum with this group heading into next year.”