Sometimes, just a couple of plays are the difference between a comfortable victory and a tight game.
A pair of 3-pointers by Nicholas Kay and Brandon Jefferson turned a four-point Metro State lead into a 10-point margin with 7 minutes, 23 seconds to play, and the No. 4 Roadrunners avenged last season’s loss at Whalen Gymnasium with a 78-65 victory over the Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team Saturday in Durango, snapping the Skyhawks’ six-game winning streak.
Before the quick burst from long range, netiher team had a lead bigger than six points all evening, with FLC (11-4, 8-3 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) holding a 41-38 halftime advantage. But that pair of triples gave Metro State (14-1, 11-0 RMAC) an edge it never would relinquish as the Skyhawks got no closer than seven the rest of the way.
Jefferson, who seemingly has been a thorn in the Skyhawks’ side his entire four-year career, had an answer for nearly every big FLC bucket late and was 10-of-15 from the field and 4-of-5 from 3 for a game-high 31 points.
“Brandon Jefferson, I don’t even think it’s arguable, he’s the best guard I’ve ever seen in this league,” said FLC head coach Bob Hofman, who’s in his 22nd season as an RMAC head coach. “He’s just phenomenal under pressure. He’s phenomenal when there’s no pressure.”
Jamal McClerkin added 15 points, and Kay had 11 points and 12 rebounds for Metro State.
As Metro State got hot, the Skyhawks’ attack began to fizzle in a desperate attempt to keep the game from slipping away. FLC shot just 27 percent from the field in the second half and 35 percent for the game, connecting on an uncharacteristically low 7-of-22 3-point attempts in the contest.
Hofman said the poor shooting may have had an affect on his squad defensively late, something he hopes to get corrected in the final 11 games of the RMAC slate.
“When you make shots, you gain energy on defense. When you miss shots, you lose energy,” Hofman said. “And I was a little disappointed in our body language when we were missing shots as opposed to just going on to the next play, keep playing hard, enthusiastically.”
FLC also was victimized in the closing minutes by key offensive rebounds by Metro State to lengthen possessions and run precious seconds off the clock.
Alex Herrera battled foul trouble for the second consecutive night but still managed 17 points and nine rebounds. Mike Matthews scored 17, and Nick Tomsick had 15 on just 5-of-16 shooting.
The first 32 minutes were the slugfest all three meetings between to the two teams a season ago turned out to be, with the three games decided by a total of 14 points.
For every Herrera hook shot or crowd-pleasing dunk, there was a Jefferson dagger from 3. For every big drive by Matthews or Tomsick, there was a big putback by Kay or jumper by McClerkin.
The ability to stand toe-to-toe with the Roadrunners again was an encouraging sign for Hofman. Now it’s just a matter of putting the heartbreak to good use.
“I see that we can get a lot better, which is a good thing. ... I think our team can keep growing,” Hofman said.