The Skyhawks are riding high on a six-game winning streak, riding high right into their biggest test of the season.
The Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team grabbed a 13-point lead at halftime and never looked back, avenging last year’s home loss to Regis with a 79-59 victory over the Rangers on Friday at Whalen Gymnasium.
A year ago, Regis caught an FLC team riding high off an upset victory over then-No. 1 Metro State and upended the Skyhawks in Durango. It wasn’t to be this year as FLC used a 10-3 run to open the second half to jump to a 53-33 lead, and the Rangers would get no closer than 15 the rest of the way, setting up a marquee matchup Saturday with fourth-ranked Metro State.
The defense FLC (11-3, 8-2 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) has been pointing to as a catalyst for recent success was on its game Friday, holding the Rangers (4-11, 1-9 RMAC) to just 36-percent shooting and a 4-of-22 mark from 3-point range.
“For us, it’s been defense. We’ve got to guard, and we have guarded, especially since the (holiday break),” said FLC associate head coach Bob Pietrack, who was a part of his 200th win Friday since joining head coach Bob Hofman’s staff.
FLC, meanwhile, did its best damage in the paint. With the Rangers quick to close out on the Skyhawks’ high-powered 3-point shooting attack, FLC pounded the ball inside to the tune of a 42-18 edge in points in the paint.
Alex Herrera had another big game, shaking off first-half foul trouble to score 21 points and pull in 14 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season. Oscar Garcia had 11 in reserve duty for FLC, while Nick Tomsick added 13 points, five rebounds and five assists.
“I wanted to get back out there in the second half, but I knew I couldn’t rush anything,” Herrera said. “I just had to just play the game. It’s nothing different; it’s just the second half.”
Wes McKenzie had nine points and five assists, including a nice alley-oop to Herrera as an exclamation point in the game’s final two minutes. His play highlighted the strong run of late by FLC’s supporting cast, a key reason for the six-game winning streak. And the depth was tested Friday in the first half thanks to a tightly called contest in terms of fouls.
“I think it works well for us. I think we’re a really deep team; we have a lot of guys that could be effective in different areas,” McKenzie said.
Corbin Green led Regis with 12 points, while Jon Conley had 11 and nine rebounds. FLC held a 40-31 edge in rebounding and shot 51 percent from the field despite only going 4-of-12 from 3.
Now the Skyhawks can turn their attention to the RMAC-leading Roadrunners. Metro State is unbeaten in conference and will enter Saturday’s contest 13-1 overall, 10-0 in league and looking to avenge a loss at Whalen Gym a season ago. A win for the Skyhawks, meanwhile, would put them squarely in the middle of the RMAC race as they battle for position near the top with Metro State and Colorado Mines.
“(Saturday’s) game is a big game, and we’re excited to play it,” Pietrack said. “They’re a championship program, and we feel we are, too. And it’s an exciting college basketball game.”