Seemingly forever locked in close games, the Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team ran away with one Saturday night.
Fort Lewis College held a steady double-digit lead most of the game at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and finished off an 83-64 victory. It was the first time the Skyhawks had their full roster available since a Dec. 19 six-point loss at No. 1 Colorado School of Mines. All six of FLC’s previous games had been decided by six points or less.
“This league is so difficult. We expect every time we play that the game is going to be very close out of respect for how many great teams and coaches are in this league,” FLC head coach Bob Pietrack said. “We shot it really well and played great defense. Because of that, we were able to get gaps, and that takes the stress off down the stretch.”
FLC (5-4, 4-4 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) saw Will Wittman start one week after he went down with an ankle injury in a home win against Westminster. After he missed Wednesday’s one-point win at Adams State University, he returned with fury Saturday. He scored all 11 of his points in the first half to help the Skyhawks take a 43-30 lead into halftime.
Wittman had not practiced and was limited in the morning shoot-around.
“We didn’t know if we would have him until the 12-minute mark of warmups,” Pietrack said. “If someone would have told me he would play 27 minutes, I would have bet against that. But he’s a wonderful competitor, and that makes a guy like that want to get back quick. He’s a big piece of our program, part of our fabric, and we are happy he toughed it out.”
FLC senior forward Riley Farris scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds. He also had three assists. Farris was highly efficient at 11-of-17 shooting.
Pietrack was able to pair Farris on the court with junior forward Brenden Boatwright for good stretches of the game. The two 6-foot-9 forwards on the court at the same time was devastating to the smaller Mountain Lions (5-6 RMAC). Boatwright finished with 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
“We outscored them 40-22 in the paint. The front line was impressive,” Pietrack said. “We were more impressed with their ability to guard smaller players. It’s something we’ve worked on a lot in practice because we are committed to playing the two bigs. They’re getting better defensively guarding smaller forwards. When they can do that, we have a chance to have a giant advantage.”
It was Akuel Kot who caught fire for the Skyhawks in the second half. After the Mountain Lions crept back into the game and trailed only 53-46, the sophomore guard buried two 3-pointers and another shot from the field. Suddenly, FLC stretched its lead to as much as 25 points at 77-52.
Kot finished with 12 points and three assists and made 3-of-6 from 3-point range.
“Akuel is still a young buck out there, and he’s trying to find his spot. He’s been incredibly important to our season,” Pietrack said. “He gets starter minutes off the bench every game and is a total team player. He was really fresh in the second half, and he took us home hitting big shots. He kept them at a jabber distance and then knocked them out.”
Tyler Kinghorn had his best game yet in a Skyhawks uniform. The transfer forward made all four of his shots, including one 3, and scored 10 points.
FLC blocked six shots as a team, led by two from junior forward Brendan La Rose. The Skyhawks also turned it over only 10 times and tallied 19 assists, led by four each from Wittman and Dunnell “Scottie” Stafford.
UCCS, as it has been all season, was led by Alijah Comithier, who scored 21 points on 6-of-14 shooting and 7-of-10 free throws.
FLC shot 53% in the first half and got only better in the second to finish at 58.2%. UCCS was held to 36.2% shooting from the field in its third game of the week.
Winners of three in a row for the first time this season, FLC added a game at 1 p.m. Monday against CSU-Pueblo (2-6 RMAC). The game was previously postponed because of COVID-19 issues.
Then, the Skyhawks will return home to host No. 1 Mines (10-0, 9-0 RMAC) at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“The hardest thing to do in college basketball is win three road games in a calendar week,” Pietrack said. “We knew if we played well tonight we’d have to look that mountain in the eye a bit. CSU-Pueblo is a good team. Like us, they have not had all their guys at all of their games. But I think they will be at full strength. They have some of the best guards in the league, so we have to turn around quickly and focus on Pueblo and try to muster up 40 really good minutes of basketball and see if we can’t finish this road trip strong.”