Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
The game was out of reach with less than 5 seconds to play, but after the way he’d played all night, Alex Herrera wasn’t about to give up any late pity buckets.
Herrera capped the night with one final block, walking off the court while shaking his head as if to say, “Not tonight, boys. Not in my lane.”
Herrera had the most dominant performance of his young career Friday, and the No. 20 Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team built a big lead, then held off Colorado Christian 84-71 for its eighth win in nine games.
Herrera, a sophomore center from Ignacio, was an impenetrable force defensively and a load on offense. He scored a career-high 24 points, pulled in 11 rebounds and had eight blocks, the second time in three games the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference’s leader in blocks per game turned away eight shots.
Among those 24 points were three dunks, two and-ones and eight made free throws, a showcase of Herrera’s aggressiveness around the basket.
“I was just trying to be aggressive (Friday), and it obviously worked,” said Herrera, son of Chris and Kathy Herrera.
His biggest points came late, when FLC (13-2, 10-2 RMAC) watched its 20-point lead dwindle to six at 77-71 with 43 seconds to play. After a Torrey Udall free throw, Herrera hit a free throw, then took a pass in transition and converted a layup plus a free throw to push the lead to 82-71. Matt Mazarei’s layup with 8 seconds to go put the game away before one last Herrera block put the icing on the cake.
FLC head coach Bob Hofman said the reason for the Colorado Christian rally had to do with his substitution of a handful of players who hadn’t had the opportunity to play much with their already-on-the-floor counterparts and FLC’s 21 total turnovers.
“We’ve got to learn to be strong against pressure and reverse the ball. When we reversed the ball, we were really good,” Hofman said.
Not to be outdone, the Skyhawks’ perimeter players gave FLC a potent inside-outside punch. FLC hit 52.6 percent from 3-point range, with Wes McKenzie’s pair of triples early in the half helping FLC turn a 42-34 halftime advantage into a 50-34 lead rather quickly.
Marcus Ayala was the catalyst in the first half offensively, getting hot to help FLC overcome Herrera’s two fouls. He scored 14 of his 18 points in the half and hit all four of his 3s before intermission.
Nick Tomsick finished with 13 points for the Skyhawks.
McKenzie hit all three of his 3-point attempts for nine points.
“We had a couple daggers that I thought we missed, but we did make our share,” Hofman said. “We’ll take that percentage any time.”
And Herrera wasn’t the only FLC big man that took advantage of a size advantage in the post over the smaller Cougars (7-13, 2-10 RMAC). Udall nearly missed a double-double of his own, scoring eight points and pulling in nine rebounds.
FLC also held a rebounding advantage of 41-33.
“After the Metro (State) game, we just wanted to rebound a lot better, and I think we did that (Friday),” Herrera said.
Now the Skyhawks turn their attention to Colorado Mines, who they’ll meet at 7:30 p.m. today at Whalen Gymnasium. The Orediggers clipped FLC by one on a late jumper last year in Durango, and despite their injury woes, they should provide a stiff test as the Skyhawks chasse the nation’s top-ranked team, Metro State.
“Mines has been so resilient. ... They’ve just done a great job of gluing it together and playing extremely well,” Hofman said.