Rhythm was the answer.
It’s what the Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team lacked as UC-Colorado Springs took a 48-46 second-half lead.
It’s what the Skyhawks found in rolling to a 17-point win.
No. 22 FLC played better defense and found its way on offense over the final 15 minutes, pulling away for a 83-66 win Saturday at Whalen Gymnasium.
Trailing by two with 15:31 to play, FLC (17-4, 14-4 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) held UCCS without a point for 5 minutes, 31 seconds as part of a 29-6 run that saw the Skyhawks build the lead to 75-56.
FLC outscored UCCS 44-30 after leading 39-36 at halftime, and the Skyhawks shot a blistering 69 percent after intermission.
“We always talk about if we play 40 minutes of Fort Lewis basketball, we’ll have a great game,” said Marcus Ayala, who led all scorers with 23 points. “So staying composed is the main part, and playing our game is what helped us stay through it and get the ballgame out.”
Alex Herrera was Mr. Inside to Ayala’s Mr. Outside, scoring 21 points and pulling in 13 rebounds. Matt Mazarei had six assists against no turnovers as FLC assisted on 25 of 33 made field goals.
Herrera had to battle and really exert himself for points in a very physical contest, fighting through a sea of bodies and arms to make 9 of 13 field goal attempts.
“Well, if they’re going to play physical, I’m just going to play physical right back. I’m not going to let it get in my head,” Herrera said.
Fort Lewis turned up the heat defensively as well, holding UCCS (4-18, 4-14 RMAC) to 36 percent shooting in the second half.
“We have pretty good depth, and in the second half, I thought (the bench) came in and gave us some energy,” FLC head coach Bob Hofman said. “I don’t think they’re quite as deep as we are, and I think we wore them down a little bit, and I think our starters were able to come back in and play with a bit of an advantage.”
FLC jumped out early, leading by as many as 13 in the first half. But a 12-4 run late in the first half was sparked by Alex Welsh, who finished with 17 points, and Derrick White did some of his 17 points worth of damage early in the second to help UCCS to the lead.
“One of the cardinal rules of coaching is don’t coach frustrated,” Hofman said. “And the team played, I thought, a little frustrated toward the end of the first half, and in the second half ... we were a little bit freer.”
Looming next is the heretofore unbeaten Metro State, ranked No. 1 in the nation. Fort Lewis fell 71-65 to the Roadrunners last time, with the rematch set for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Whalen Gym.