The ThunderWolves men’s basketball team received a 72-63 victory against Fort Lewis while hosting the first home playoff game of the season March 3.
“Our goal was to have a home playoff game and we did that. Our goal was to win it, and we did that too,” said Ralph Turner, head basketball coach at CSU-Pueblo. “Our goal was to win 20 games. We have won 21 and still counting.”
The game started at 7:30 p.m. in CSU-Pueblo’s Massari Arena with a starting line-up that included Odessa Lear, Jed Knafelc, Bronson Moton, Rico Spikes and Tyrone Marshall.
“We had a fabulous time and it was great to see the boys work together and proud to see them get as far as they did,” said Alejandra Loya, a senior sociology-criminology major at CSU-Pueblo. “It was also great the school spirit and supportive student body.”
The Pack faced some struggle during the first half against the Fort Lewis. The score was 29-26, which put the team under pressure. However, by the end of the second half, CSU-Pueblo successfully scored 20 points to compliment their playoff victory.
“Our goal for the game was to take away the game,” Turner said. “I think the team executed the game extremely well and we were deep enough and played well tonight. This was the night that showcased our team.”
Senior Jed Knafelc was in the limelight at the game, as he ended up earning a total of 23 points. This was highest among all the players.
“I came out with the first three-pointers and then we gained our rhythm and other guys seem to flow little bit better,” Knafelc said. “Later we struggled for ten minutes and after that it was a completely different game and it was a dog fight.”
There was a huge crowd of Pack supporters at the Massari Arena comprising of students, other CSU-Pueblo athletic teams, families and friends of the basketball players, as well as community members.
“I always love coming out to support our sports teams, especially when we have the whole track team here to make some noise,” said Samantha Bellah, senior business management major at CSU-Pueblo. “As an athlete I know how much it means to see people in the stands watching.”
The audience members also consisted of some former men’s basketball players, who came to support the team during the home playoff game.
“I really enjoyed watching as many games I could since I have gotten back from playing professionally overseas,” said Wendell Lee, CSU-Pueblo alum and former CSU-Pueblo basketball player. “This team is special and have laid a foundation that hasn’t been here for years.”
Among all the teams who came to support the basketball team, the ThunderWolves football team, along with their coach John Wristen, gained the most attention.
“I was surprised to see our football coach and the football team supporting us tonight,” Turner said. “They really helped us.”
There were also performances by CSU-Pueblo cheerleading and dance teams during the timeouts and halftime, along with the “chuck for luck” draw organized by the CSU-Pueblo athletics department.
“The atmosphere was great tonight and it was good to see the team play so well. I am proud to know the fan support for basketball is growing,” said Anthony Bohuslavsky, freshman engineering major and red shirt player at CSU-Pueblo.
With the victory, the team has advanced to the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Shootout Semifinals, which will held in Denver on March 6.
“I can’t wait to see the game Friday,” Lee said. “I’m proud of Jed, Ty, Mal, Brayden and Stevan. I really missed playing with those guys and may God be with them. I’ll see them in Denver.”
As the fourth seed, the ThunderWolves will be battling the top seed and host Metropolitan State University at Denver in the semifinals Friday at Auraria Event Center beginning at 7:30 p.m.
MSU is ranked at no. 12 in the nation.
“We are not making any guarantees,” Knafelc said. “We have had a great home season. They have had a perfect home season and if I am not mistaken, we were the last team to beat them at their place two years ago.”
The winner of the game will then battle the winner of No. 7 seed Adams State University and No. 3 seed University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.