Jan 212003
 
Authors: Joshua Pilkington

In the midst of one of its best seasons to date, the CSU men’s basketball team received an unexpected, unpleasant surprise.

Senior Quantone Smith, known to fans and teammates as ‘Q’, left the team Tuesday due to personal reasons, head coach Dale Layer said.

The 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward from Minneapolis, Minn., missed the Rams’ game Jan. 18 – a 51-49 win over Air Force – to attend to personal issues. He decided to make that decision permanent.

“He’s been struggling with some personal issues and he is going back to Minneapolis (to deal with them),” Layer said. “He was a great player and will be missed.”

Playing primarily as the team’s sixth man, Smith left the Rams averaging 5.6 points and 2.6 rebounds a game while providing the team with some big minutes off the bench.

He had arguably his best game of the season in the Rams 90-63 win over Gardner-Webb on Dec. 7, when he posted 14 points and six rebounds in 16 minutes.

“Everybody misses him,” Layer said. “He is a friend to a lot of people on this team.”

Though the loss of Smith is unexpected and unpleasant, Layer said the team needs to keep its focus on the season at hand.

“We still have games to play; we just have to move on from here,” he said.

For the Rams (13-4, 2-0 MWC), moving on means preparing for Saturday’s big conference match-up against Wyoming (14-3, 2-0), which struggled to a 46-44 defeat of Air Force in Laramie, Wyo., Monday night.

“They’ve been the best team in the conference two years running,” said freshman point guard Micheal Morris. “It’s gonna be a big war.”

More than just bragging rights will be on the line for both teams, as a win would vault the victor into first place in the Mountain West Conference.

“It’s a huge game for us,” Layer said. “Both teams are undefeated in conference play. I’m excited about the opportunity to battle for first place.”

Furthermore, the Rams will put their record-tying, 14-game home winning streak on the line.

“At home our attitude is, ‘We’re not gonna let anyone come in here and take (the streak) from us,'” said freshman Shelton Johnson, who’s given the team quality minutes off the bench this season. “We’ve got to play hard and defend our home court.”

While the team’s players have put out the effort on the court to bring the streak this far, Layer said the fans have also had a part in the team’s home-court success.

“Fan support in Moby has improved and grown with each game, and with that, our confidence,” he said.

Though the loss of Smith may be hard for the team to swallow, it does leave Layer the opportunity to give 6-10 junior Darien Burke and 6-6 sophomore Matt Williams more playing time.

“Darien Burke has played some during the year and he and Matt Williams will have the opportunity to step up to a bigger role,” Layer said.

Williams has posted strong numbers in limited minutes this season, especially on the boards where he is averaging 4.3 per game in only 17 minutes of play.

Burke has shown his potential at times this season, but has been used mainly late in one-sided games. However, according to Layer, that is about to change.

“Both are going to have to step up and shoulder more of the burden,” he said.

Layer and CSU fans should know by Saturday whether they are capable of doing so.

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