Bieri, free throws too much to overcome at division champion Fort Lewis
Baker, Jensen each record career-highs
DURANGO, Colo.— The Fort Lewis College Skyhawks used a big 23-6 advantage in free throw points while receiving a fine 22-point, 9-rebound effort from junior forward Tim Bieri as they clinched at least a share of their second straight Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference West Division title and the second seed in next week’s RMAC Shootout with a 64-55 win over the visiting Adams State College Grizzlies Tuesday night in Whalen Gymnasium.
The Skyhawks improved to 17-8 overall and to 13-5 in RMAC play with the victory and now have a full 1 1/2 game lead on Mesa State College in the division standings. Fort Lewis will win any potential tiebreakers with the Mavericks because of their two head-to-head victories and by virtue of that has clinched one of the top two seeds that go to the conference’s division winners. East Division leading Fort Hays State, the top ranked team in the country, is a perfect 17-0 in conference play and will be the top seed.
The Grizzlies, who fell to 13-13 overall and to 10-8 in the loop with Tuesday’s setback, are now even more likely to be the sixth seed in the tournament, which would mean a Wednesday, Mar. 1 trip to the University of Nebraska-Kearney’s Health & Sports Center to face the Lopers (19-6, 14-3 RMAC), a squad that has clinched the third seed.
Although Bieri stole the show with his 7 of 13 shooting effort from the field, the Grizzlies had plenty of highlights as well. Senior Greg Baker (Lewisville, Texas) scored 16 points while grabbing a career-high eight rebounds. Junior Wes Jensen (Molalla, Ore.) scored 11 points and also finished with a career and game-best 13 rebounds to record his second double-double of the season. Jensen also nailed three 3-pointers and is now just two shy of ASC’s NCAA Division II era (1992/93-Present) single-season record of 67 held by Ed Ash (1998-99).
He and the Grizzlies wrap up the regular season Saturday night at Colorado State-Pueblo, all but out of the RMAC Shootout chase with 9-16 overall and 5-12 RMAC records. The ThunderWolves, coached by ASC all-time 3-point shooting record holder Patrick Eberhart, would love nothing more to play the role of the spoiler for both the Skyhawks, who they host on Friday, and the Grizzlies.
Jensen and Baker’s rebounding prowess helped the Grizzlies to a huge 38-24 advantage on the glass. The Grizzlies also out shot the Skyhawks by more than seven percent (43.8-36.7) but could not overcome the free throws and 19 turnovers, which turned into 19 Skyhawk points. The Skyhawks committed just 10 turnovers, which led to just four ASC tallies.
FLC went to the line 28 times while the Grizzlies made just 10 trips.
The Grizzlies jumped out to a 7-0 lead and held the Skyhawks scoreless for more than five minutes as Fort Lewis missed seven shots while committing three turnovers to begin the game before Bieri put the home team on the scoreboard with two free throws 5:07 into the contest. FLC would not lead throughout the first half but did tie the game on three occasions before a Roman Moniak (Sacramento, Calif.) 3-pointer with 1:18 to go in the period put the Grizzlies up 25-22.
Going into halftime with a 25-23 edge after a Bieri free throw, one of his seven on the night, the Grizzlies jumped out to a 30-23 lead in the second period thanks to a half-starting Baker jumper followed by a Jensen 3-pointer, which came just moments after one of his five offensive rebounds.
However, the Skyhawks came roaring back using an 11-0 run in which Bieri scored eight straight points to take a 34-30 lead. That slight Skyhawk lead remained fairly steady before 6-0 Grizzly spurt capped by a Rajshad Anderson (Lewisville, Texas) 3-ball with 9:38 to go put the Grizzlies back up, 45-44.
Skyhawk freshman Ryan Mortensen, the younger brother of ASC sophomore point guard Marcus Mortensen (Cortez, Colo.), who had a game-high seven assists to go along with six rebounds, then answered with a trey of his own as the Skyhawks forged into the lead once again.
The Grizzlies would tie the game on two more occasions before a Gerald Bryant three put FLC up for good with less than five minutes left. Bryant finished the night with 14 points off the bench. Fort Lewis junior Ryan Johnson, who made eight points from the line, and Moniak were also in double figures with 10 points each.
Trailing by just five with 2:30 to go, Baker tried to lead the Grizzlies back with a layup before he missed the front end of a one-and-one that potentially could have put the Grizzlies within one with 1:32 left. The Skyhawks, who have won division titles in four of the last five years, then iced the game by hitting six straight free throws down the stretch.
Saturday’s game, which begins at 8 p.m. and any RMAC Shootout games that the Grizzlies play can be heard on KSPK-FM (103.5 in Alamosa) and via the internet at www.kspk.com.