Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
The first two options were covered. Turns out the third option was the charm.
With the game tied at 69 with 6.2 seconds left, Fort Lewis College’s Marcus Ayala ran the length of the floor, passed on a possible handoff to a typically clutch Nick Tomsick and stormed to the rim. When the defense rotated over, Alex Herrera was wide open.
And the FLC center did what big men do best – slammed it home as the clock struck zero.
The buzzer-beating dunk helped No. 20 FLC shrug off Brian Muller’s tying 3 moments earlier for a 71-69 win over Colorado School of Mines on Saturday at Whalen Gymnasium.
“Of course, Nick is the clutch man that he is; they obviously saw film on him. .. I was able to get wide open, and Chief’s (Herrera’s) man committed to me and got a dump-off for him,” Ayala said.
“It’s about sending a statement. We’re not done yet. We can’t stop here.”
The dunk capped another big night for Herrera, who had 21 points, nine rebounds and six blocks and is playing with a world of confidence heading into next week’s game with Adams State. He had 24 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks the night before against Colorado Christian, giving him 45 points, 20 rebounds and 14 blocks total this weekend.
“I feel good right now. I’m sure we all feel great, too,” Herrera said.
Fort Lewis (14-2, 11-2 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) didn’t lead until going up 46-43 in the second half on a 3 by Tomsick, who had 20 points. A better defensive effort helped FLC overcome Mines’ hot shooting early. Mines hit 60 percent in the first half but just 30 percent after halftime, but after a handful of missed free throws, the Orediggers still had a chance to win late, tying the game on Muller’s 3 from the right wing with 6.2 seconds to play.
The Skyhawks pulled ahead by as much as 60-49, but some solid defense, a 9-2 Mines run and some clutch shooting left the door open.
“They are as well a coached team as you’ll ever play against. ... We’ve got to do a better job of guarding penetration,” FLC head coach Bob Hofman said.
Herrera won the battle of two of the RMAC’s best big men, as Trevor Wages scored 10 points and shot just 4 of 13 from the field. Mines (10-7, 7-6 RMAC) was led by Muller’s 21 points and 18 from Luke Meisch.
“Just being aggressive,” Herrera said of playing against Wages, who entered the game averaging 17 points per game.