Depth and versatility look to be Fort Lewis’ calling card this season.
The Skyhawks never trailed and pulled away in the second half en route to an 87-68 win over Western New Mexico.
“I really was happy with our team’s defense intensity,” Fort Lewis coach Bob Pietrack said. “Besides that one run, we really controlled the game with our defense and the 23 turnovers indicate that.”
Western New Mexico shot 36% from the field and 32% from 3-point range against the stifling Skyhawks defense. Fort Lewis showed Western New Mexico a lot of full-court press, which caused many of the team’s 23 turnovers. Those turnovers came in bunches, which energized both the Skyhawks faithful and the players.
Fort Lewis had 10 steals and nine blocks.
“If we keep teams in the 60s, we’re going to be playing basketball for a long time this year,” Pietrack said.
The Skyhawks shot 51% from the field and 35% from 3-point range.
Junior guard Obi Agbim led the Skyhawks with 18 points on 4 of 9 shooting from the field, 2 of 4 shooting from 3-point range and 8 of 10 shooting from the free-throw line. All 10 of his free throws came in the first half.
Agbim also had seven rebounds and five steals for Fort Lewis. Junior forward Brayden Carter was the only other Skyhawk in double figures with 12 points on 5 of 9 shooting from the field and 2 of 3 shooting from the free-throw line. Carter also had five rebounds and three blocks for Fort Lewis.
Evan Butts had 15 points to lead Western New Mexico. Allen Fordham also had 13 points off the bench for the Mustangs.
The Skyhawks’ depth showed up once again. Seven Fort Lewis players scored eight or more points. Pietrack has repeatedly said this team’s strength is its depth which has helped it pull away in second halfs.
“I have a lot of really good teammates I can trust,” Agbim said. “When the defense is able to load the gaps I trust them and throw it out. I feel like if I get in the paint and play off two (feet), I can do a lot for this team.”
Fort Lewis started out fast with some good inside play from junior forward Isiah Thompson, who scored the Skyhawks’ first two points with a fadeaway jumper in the paint.
Then a barrage of 3-pointers put Fort Lewis in command. Agbim hit one and junior guard Tristan Hurdle hit two 3-pointers off the bench. Fort Lewis led 26-11 with eight minutes left, but Western New Mexico’s shooters started catching fire from 3-point range.
After starting 1 of 11 from deep, the Mustangs hit their next four 3-pointers to cut the deficit to 35-31 with 2:11 to go in the first half.
“You’ve got to credit them for making long shots,” Pietrack said. “It is a basketball game, there are no shutouts but they’re going to score. We just had a lull and that’s what happens. We’re still learning our team.”
Agbim hit a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws to give Fort Lewis some breathing room at halftime, as it led 44-38.
Things then shifted back in favor of the Skyhawks to start the second half. Thompson and Dembele finished in the paint first, then senior guard Malik Whitaker and Carter finished fast breaks in the paint off turnovers to stretch the lead to 53-43 with 14:45 to go.
Fort Lewis continued to force turnovers with its press. Redshirt sophomore Amondo Miller Jr. had two nice finishes inside midway through the second half.
The Skyhawks continued to punish the Mustangs inside as the second half continued, including a nice inside finish by Carter. Fort Lewis’ lead eventually increased to 69-53 and kept growing.
“We were really trying to dominate the paint,” Pietrack said of the second half. “Our shooting percentage in the second half was much higher. We shot 58% in the second half and that’s why there was a 13-point gap in the second half.”
The Skyhawks will host Eastern New Mexico University at 3 p.m. Saturday.