The Mountain Lions men’s basketball RMAC tournament run came up empty on Friday night, March 4. They won big against the Colorado School of Mines on March 1 to advance to the semifinals but followed it with a season-ending defeat to number one seeded Black Hills State, effectively ending UCCS’ season.
UCCS vs Colorado School of Mines on March 1
After qualifying for the RMAC tournament for the eighth time in nine seasons, UCCS faced off against the Colorado School of Mines Orediggers, looking to clinch a spot in the second round to face off against Black Hills State, the number one seed in the conference.
Both teams began the game with back-and-forth scoring, with the Orediggers attacking the paint while the Mountain Lions attempted to get the three-point shooting going, a huge factor going into the game.
Later in the first half, the Mountain Lions rattled off an 8-2 run, their largest of the game, to take an 11-point lead with six and a half minutes to play in the first period.
Layups from junior guard Jon’il Fugett and jumpers from redshirt sophomore guard Bobby Martin kept UCCS ahead, and a scoreless final three minutes from both sides saw a nine-point lead for the Mountain Lions going into the break.
To start the second half, a pair of three-point makes from Martin followed by a dunk from freshman forward Mac Stodart had UCCS on another 8-2 run, this time taking a 14-point lead with only two minutes gone in the half.
Sophomore forward Alijah Comithier got going a few minutes later, with a tough finish at the rim after a big block on the Orediggers, although the lead shrunk to 11 after a Colorado School of Mines jumper from the free throw line.
The lead fell to as low as five, however, after the Mountain Lions began to miss shots down the stretch. Fugett scored the last seven points for UCCS on four straight made free throws and a clutch three-point jump shot to make it a three-possession game.
After some late game antics and fouling, the Mountain Lions prevailed 74-71, moving on to the second round of the tournament, a game away from the RMAC championship match.
Martin led the team in scoring for the first time this season, with 17 points, and Fugett followed close behind with 16 of his own. The Mountain Lions’ 90% shooting from the free throw line was their most this season, coming in to help them win a big game.
UCCS vs. Black Hills State on March 4
The Mountain Lions faced off against the Black Hills State Yellow Jackets, the top ranked seed in the RMAC, on March 4. UCCS had defeated Black Hills State earlier in the season, a 29-point blowout that started a four-game winning streak.
UCCS did not start the game in a victorious fashion by any means, though, missing their first 11 shots during the opening five minutes of the game. In return, the Yellow Jackets rattled off a 15-0 scoring run to take a huge lead with only a few minutes off the clock.
The remainder of the first half was met with scoring from both sides, with the Mountain Lions attempting to come back from one of their largest deficits in the first half this season.
Drawing fouls became a source of scoring for UCCS, with Comithier, redshirt senior guard Parker Gaddis and redshirt sophomore forward William Becker cutting the lead to 10 on solely made free throws.
Down by fourteen at the half, the Mountain Lions came into the second and final period with a better defensive game plan, forcing turnovers on three of the four opening possessions for the Yellow Jackets.
An 8-0 run followed, and the Mountain Lions were only down five after just four minutes into the second half.
“We’ve never really been a great shooting team, but I think rebounding, taking pride on defense, going for 50/50 balls, that’s what [I think] brought us back into the game,” Comithier said after the game.
Comithier led the Mountain Lions in scoring during their elimination game, with 21 points on only 40% shooting, although not making a single three-pointer on his five attempts. Fugett added 20 points while shooting 6-18 from the field.
After a timeout, the Yellow Jackets retook a double-digit lead behind scoring from forward Joel Scott, the winner of the RMAC’s Player of the Year award for the season.
The following minutes consisted of back-and-forth scoring from both teams, with the Mountain Lions never getting the game back to a two-possession game, ultimately dropping their final game of the season 86-77, taking themselves out of NCAA Division II tournament contention.
“Tough game, great environment,” said coach Jeff Culver. “That’s what you get when you play the number one seed on the road. Black Hills did a great job hitting big shots, using the momentum from the crowd to jump on us early,”
This was Culver’s tenth season coaching the Mountain Lions, and the first time a UCCS team has advanced past the opening round of the RMAC Tournament since winning the tournament in 2015.
“I’m proud of these guys,” Culver said. “The resilience of this group [when] we’re down a couple guys, dealing with some injuries, but to come back and still have a chance and make a game of it down the stretch really shows some great courage of them.”
This was the Mountain Lions first 20-win season since the 2014-2015 campaign, so it was a historic year nonetheless for the UCCS men’s basketball team.