MANKATO, Minn. -- Fort Lewis College (23-7 overall) defeated Mesa State (18-10) 76-55 this afternoon in the first round of the NCAA Division II Central Regionals at Minnesota State's Taylor Center.

The Skyhawks gave their longtime head coach, Bob Hofman, his first NCAA tournament victory in seven tries.

“It took a lot of hard work to get us to this point,” said associate head coach Bob Pietrack, who downplayed the March Madness “monkey-on-our-backs” tag that the Skyhawks have fought in recent trips to the Big Dance.

“Our seniors played like seniors,” said Pietrack. “All six of them helped in a positive way.”

Every Skyhawk appeared in the contest. “We played all 13 players in the championship game of the RMAC Shootout, and that really helped tonight,” Pietrack added.

Junior point guard Matt Billups led a balanced attack with 16 points. He was red-hot from behind the arc, making all four of his three-point attempts.

Junior center Matt Morris was a perfect 6-for-6 from the field and finished with 14 points. David Kanyinda added 11 and went 3-of-5 on treys.

The aforementioned Skyhawk seniors all contributed in different ways. DeAndre Lansdowne, a second team All-Central Region selection and FLC's career scoring leader, scored 9 points. Daniel Steffensen, the Most Valuable Player of last week's Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Shootout, overcame poor shooting (5 points, 1-of-7 from long range) to lead the team in assists (8) and rebounds (8), while registering 2 steals and 2 blocked shots. Connor Drumm, a reserve forward not known for his scoring prowess, chipped in 9 points. Starting forward Kyle Behrens passed for 5 assists, while reserve guard Tayler Faust scored 4 points.

“It feels great,” Faust said of the win. “We were aggressive and ready to play.”

The game was the fourth meeting of the season between Fort Lewis and Mesa State, with the Mavs winning both RMAC regular season games before FLC ousted them from the RMAC Shootout quarterfinals on March 1. Faust said that familiarity may have helped the Skyhawks.

“We played them a week ago in our conference tournament,” he said, adding that the Skyhawks established a faster tempo than the Mavs are accustomed to. “We got our flow going and hit our shots. We played Fort Lewis basketball.”

“It was just our night,” said Pietrack. “There's not a team in Division II basketball that we respect more than Mesa. At this point in your season, it's really not about who you play, but how you play.”

Fort Lewis shot 52.8 percent (28 of 53) from the field and 41.7 percent from long range (10 of 24).

The Skyhawks face Colorado Mines (25-5) — another RMAC foe — in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II Central Regionals at 5 p.m. (Central Daylight Time, which begins at 2 a.m. tomorrow morning). The Orediggers defeated Adams State (20-9) 62-59 earlier today in the first regional quarterfinal in Mankato.

Fort Lewis and Colorado Mines have met three times this season, with FLC owning a 2-1 advantage. The Skyhawks won 86-83 in Golden on Jan. 15, but the Orediggers turned the tables in FLC's Whalen Gym on Feb. 19, winning 78-71. Fort Lewis won last Sunday's RMAC Shootout championship game in Pueblo over Mines, 72-67.

“We've got to keep being aggressive,” said Faust, whose older brother Jason is a former Fort Lewis standout who now serves as an assistant coach for the Orediggers. “Everybody has to contribute. Mines plays the same game tempo as Mesa. They grind it out and play smart basketball.”

Tuesday's regional championship will be played at 7 p.m. (CDT) in Mankato.