If the saying is true that defense wins tournament games, then Fort Lewis College got an early start Saturday night.
The Skyhawks’ men’s basketball team forced 23 turnovers and allowed Colorado Mesa to score just 16 points in the second half to rally for a 61-50 victory Saturday at Whalen Gymnasium in the final game of the regular season.
After trailing 34-30 at halftime, Fort Lewis College stormed to a 23-4 run to open the second half, grabbing a 53-38 lead it wouldn’t come close to relinquishing.
The Mavericks committed 16 turnovers after the break and made just six field goals in the second half.
Matt Billups scored 12 of his team-high 19 points in the second half, and Mike Matthews added 10 of his 13 to send the Skyhawks into the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Shootout on a three-game winning streak.
“We just didn’t want to play soft. Plain and simple. We wanted to make them look soft,” Matthews said.
Billups and Matthews were everywhere to start the second half, scoring 18 of FLC’s first 20 points. Matthews possibly had his best weekend in two years at Fort Lewis, totaling 24 points in two games, and looked as aggressive in getting to the rim as he has all season, a factor he owes to a motivating chip on his shoulder.
“I was starting at the beginning of the year. Individual is not important,” Matthews said. “But I want to come out and show what I had for the team ... because early in the season, I felt that I wasn’t playing – even when I was trying – playing as hard as I could for the team.”
The Skyhawks (15-11, 13-9 RMAC) started quickly out of the gate, riding a 12-0 run to help build an 18-6 lead. From there, however, the Mavericks (14-12, 12-10 RMAC) came alive, going on a 22-2 run of their own in order to build a 28-20 lead with 3:38 left to go in the half.
Colton Burgon, the only Maverick in double figures, scored 12 points in the first half, finishing with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
“I thought there was a hustle play right in front of our bench that we didn’t get, and they keep it and made a basket, and I think we went about three minutes without scoring, and they went up four,” FLC head coach Bob Hofman said.
Fort Lewis was able to turn the tide thanks to the bevy of turnovers it forced, which allowed its offense to get rolling with its preferred up-tempo style and overcome a 49-37 deficit in field goal percentage.
For FLC, Josh Cassaday added nine points and Matt Morris six.
“I thought that our second-half defense was as good as we’ve played all year,” Hofman said. “I was really pleased with the way we were able to force them out of their offense. It gave us momentum; it gave us a few easy shots.”
FLC will open defense of its RMAC Shootout title against Adams State at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Alamosa.