“We got lucky.”
Chris Denker’s opening post-game remarks consisted of those three words. And really, he couldn’t have put it better.
The first-year head coach and his team narrowly escaped the biggest scare of their young season Wednesday night, defeating Division II Metro State, 60-53, at Moby Arena.
Senior center Shannon Strecker came up huge for the Rams (4-1) down the stretch, scoring 14 of her 16 points in the second half, and junior forward Joy Jenkins’ three-pointer gave the Rams their first lead of the ball game, 50-49, with 2:15 to play in the game.
Until that point, the outlook was not good as the Rams played down to the Roadrunners – who last month lost to CSU’s Mountain West rival Wyoming by 55 points – for much of the contest.
If not for some key turnovers and missed free throws by Metro State, the Roadrunners (1-3) would likely have pulled off the huge upset.
“I’m completely befuddled. I have no answers to anything,” Denker said of his team’s come-from-behind victory. “Thank God for Shannon because in the second half she kept us afloat.”
From the beginning, the Roadrunners forced the Rams into an awful all-around game. CSU’s offense started the game with turnovers on its first three possessions – the first of 16 they would amass before the half would end – and didn’t score a point until more than 7:30 was gone in the first half, missing their first 11 shots.
Metro State, on the other hand, opened the game on a 10-0 scoring run and the Roadrunners’ tight zone defense cause the Ram offense to look uncomfortable for much of the night.
“I look at the first 11 shots of the game and how many of them rimmed out and I can’t help but think that had those actually fallen, the game would have been totally different,” said CSU senior forward Ashley Augspurger, who finished tied with Strecker with a game-high 16 points. “When we were struggling, we started to question ourselves and lose our confidence and we can’t afford to do that.”
The Rams appeared to get back in sync when Augspurger scored the first eight points of a 10-0 CSU run that squared the score at 10-10. But the Rams shot themselves in the foot repeatedly with turnovers, finishing the half with 16 giveaways and trailing the Roadrunners 31-24.
“I was just grasping for something, anything for that whole game. We couldn’t do anything right,” Denker said. “I don’t know what to say about the turnovers or anything else.”
While the Rams wanted to run the ball and pick up the pace, the Roadrunners were successful at slowing the game down, holding onto the lead until the game’s closing minutes.
“Going in, realistically, we hoped they might be a little bit lulled to sleep with our status and would maybe kind of overlook us,” said Metro State head coach Dave Murphy. “I couldn’t be prouder of our players, but I give CSU a lot of credit because as frustrated as they got, they never lost their confidence.”
Strecker said she felt the Rams came out looking past the Division II Roadrunners.
“We just thought, ‘well, we’re a Division I team and they’re a Division II team,'” Strecker said. “You have to give them credit. They didn’t care who we were. They came in here and stuck it to us.”
The Roadrunners were led by junior center Malene Lindholm with 14 points, while junior guard Natalie Quinn added 11.
CSU wasn’t helped by the fact they were suffering through several injuries. Two starters – seniors Elizabeth English and Lisa Narkiewicz went down in the first half with a sprained ankle and jammed finger, respectively, and, along with sophomore guard Ashley Venekamp (concussion), played sparingly in the second half.
The Rams will get a chance to rebound from their sub-par performance when they take on Stephen F. Austin at Moby Arena on Sunday afternoon.