DENVER – The ethos for March basketball is “survive and advance.”
And down the stretch Friday night, the game had the feel of one where one team would make just enough plays to find a way.
When Kaimyn Pruitt’s tip went awry as the horn sounded, Fort Lewis College was the one left standing.
The 22nd-ranked Skyhawks’ men’s basketball team held off a furious Adams State rally in the final three minutes, edging the Grizzlies 70-69 on Friday at the Auraria Event Center to advance to the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Shootout title game.
“The one thing we’ve had all year is quality depth, and someone’s been able to step up most of the time,” FLC head coach Bob Hofman said. “I’ve said that we’ve been able to be real successful in a lot of tight games this year, and I think a lot of that is because of the quality depth that we have.”
Much like Tuesday’s quarterfinal win over Colorado Mines, FLC (21-6) led Adams State by 10 at 67-57 with 3 minutes, 36 seconds to play. But the Grizzlies, who refused to let FLC run away on several occasions earlier in the game, had one more run in them, going on an 11-2 run to cut the lead to 69-68 on Rodrigo Silva’s putback with 44 seconds left.
FLC turned it over on the next possession, but Silva missed a point-blank layup with 10 seconds left, and the Skyhawks’ Alex Herrera grabbed the rebound, was fouled, then made one of two free throws.
Shaheed Young drove to the basket as the clock wound down and was fouled by Herrera with 1.8 seconds to play. He buried the first free throw, but after a timeout, Young, a 79-percent foul shooter, missed the second. The ball rolled out of bounds with 0.2 seconds left, but a toss to Pruitt for a tip attempt didn’t prove fruitful, and FLC topped Adams State (20-8) for the first time in three tries this season.
“Coach just said to play big on the inside – get a hand on it and tip it away and run out the rest of the clock,” Herrera said. “I just hugged him, and when the shot went up, I just tried to beat him up to it.”
Like a heavyweight prizefight, both teams traded blows early. The Grizzlies were on fire early, pulling out to a 14-4 lead. But the Skyhawks regained their footing and rallied, using runs of 18-4 and 11-2 to eventually lead at halftime 44-32.
“Fort Lewis took a big punch from us early, then we tasted our blood there in the first half and didn’t like it very much,” Grizzlies head coach Louis Wilson said. “I don’t think we responded as quickly as we needed to. I think it stunned us.”
The Skyhawks pulled in front thanks to torrid 3-point shooting. They made 6 of 9 3s in the first half, finishing 7 of 12 for the game.
Mike Matthews found his stroke, hitting all four of his attempts from distance, going 6 of 7 overall from the field and finishing with 16 points, tied for the team high with Marcus Ayala. That duo helped FLC outscore Adams State 35-6 in bench points.
“Alex was being huge in the post, so they had to pay some attention to him,” Matthews said. “We have a lot of guards cutting hard, so that opens a lot of stuff for us. The 3-point line was open (Friday).”
Herrera had a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds, while Nick Tomsick added 13 points for FLC.
Pruitt was the catalyst for the Grizzlies, missing only the tip at the buzzer in a 9 of 10 shooting night that netted him 22 points. John Jackson had 12, Young 11 and Norvell Arnold 10.
Pruitt’s work was critical in keeping Adams State in the game, as the Grizzlies made several second-half runs to stay within striking distance of FLC. But he’d trade all those numbers for a victory.
“Stats don’t mean nothing. ... If I had 23 points we’d be playing overtime right now,” Pruitt said.
Adams State, No. 6 in the most recent South Central Region rankings, now will await its NCAA Tournament fate.
FLC, ranked second in that same poll, will have a chance to earn the RMAC’s automatic bid for the fourth time in school history when the Skyhawks take on fourth-ranked and top-seeded Metro State at 7 p.m. today in the RMAC Shootout championship game.