Going into Wednesday night’s game against the Pioneers of Denver, CSU men’s basketball head coach Dale Layer had a simple plan: Feed the post.
The Rams (7-2) executed it to perfection.
With 7-foot center Matt Nelson, 6-foot-8 forward Brian Greene and 6-foot-5 swingman Ronnie Clark looming down low, the Rams were able to score at will in the post against DU (3-4) en route to a 96-80 victory at Moby Arena.
“Consistently getting the ball inside was the difference for us tonight,” Layer said. “Matt Nelson, Brian Greene, Ronnie Clark and Quantone Smith all had big games for us tonight.”
The Rams shot a season-high 63 percent from the field for the game, with about 60 percent of those shots coming from inside the paint.
One of the main reasons for the team’s success down low was the discipline and patience of guards Andy Birley and Maurice Morris to continuously go inside, Layer said.
“Andy and Maurice got the ball in there a lot,” Layer said. “All of our guards were more disciplined in getting the ball down low.”
With the Rams not in need of his shooting touch, Birley – who came into the game with a team-high .588 three-point shooting percentage – had a season-high 10 assists as he continuously got the ball into the hands of his teammates. That marked the first time a Ram has been in double figures in assists since Milt Palacio – now starting for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers – had 10 in 1999 against UTEP.
The Rams big men made Layer’s game plan look ingenious as they took advantage of their open looks by knocking them down at an unprecedented rate.
“We knew coming in we needed to establish the low-post early,” said Nelson, who led the team with 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the field. “We kept getting open looks and they kept falling for us.”
After playing with the flu against Gardner-Webb in Saturday’s 90-63 win, Greene was healthy and with a hot hand, scoring 19 points while shooting 9-of-11 from the field.
Though the Pioneers played aggressive defense down low – double teaming at every opportunity – it was not enough to shut down CSU as the Rams shot 66 percent in the first half while building up a 53-31 lead.
It was Clark who got things started in the second half for the Rams, scoring 11 of his 17 points in the period while shooting 8-for-10 overall.
Clark also ignited his team and the sparse Moby crowd with a pair of soaring dunks.
“Ronnie worked hard individually in the summer and is much more confident than a year ago,” Layer said of the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. “This is the Ronnie Clark we know.”
For the Pioneers it was forward Brett Starkey and guard Erik Benzel who led the way scoring 17 and 16 points, respectively.
Forward Zeljko Zupic (11) and guard Rodney Billups (10) also scored in double figures for the Pioneers in the losing effort.
Though the Rams kept Denver at bay all game, leading by as much as 30 in the second half, Layer said he expects to see more from the team in the coming weeks.
“Our team lost its concentration at times, but played 30 quality minutes,” Layer said. “Our defense was not as good as it’s been and we need to improve on that for the weekend.”
The Rams face Washington State of the Pac-10 on Saturday in Moby and, according to Clark, will look to employ the same inside game they displayed against Denver.
“We’re gonna stick with our game plan until somebody steps up and stops it,” Clark said. “Then we’ll just adjust.”
With seven wins and an eight-game winning streak in Moby, there appears to be little the Rams need to adjust.