If college basketball games were to last 35 minutes, CSU’s men’s team would be tied for first place in the Mountain West Conference with a 5-1 record.
Unfortunately for the Rams, college basketball games last 40 minutes and the Rams are stuck in fourth in the conference with a 3-3 record.
The team blew another lead in the final moments of a game, this time to the Runnin’ Utes of Utah (17-4, 5-1 MWC) who beat the Rams 71-66 in a back-and-forth contest involving two well-matched teams.
“This was an extremely hard-fought game,” said head coach Dale Layer, whose team never led nor trailed by more than seven points. “Both teams played their heart out.”
The loss marks the second in a row for the Rams at Moby Arena, where they had won a record 14 consecutive games before losing to Wyoming Jan. 25, and drops the team’s overall record to 14-7.
With a seven-point lead with 9:43 to go, the Rams appeared poised to pull off the big victory – until Utah’s defense took over.
“The difference was we got a couple of big steals with good defensive play,” Utah head coach Rick Majerus said. “I though Colorado State played a good game, we just got some steals and converted them into points.”
The Rams didn’t help their own cause much, either.
Holding on to a 57-53 lead with just under eight minutes to play, the Rams went on a scoring drought that had more to do with lack of quality shots than great Ute defense. Over the following five minutes the Rams failed to score a point as Utah went on an 11-0 run and took a 64-57 lead.
The drought ended for the Rams when sophomore Matt Nelson, who finished with a team-high 20 points and eight rebounds, hit a jumper with 2:49 to play. By then, however, the damage had been done as the Utes managed to maintain the momentum and keep CSU at bay.
The Rams again showed up on the offensive end, shooting 50 percent from the field and 71 percent from the free-throw line, while scoring 66 points on the team with the second-best scoring defense in the conference.
“You have to give CSU props; they are a great team,” said Utah forward Britton Johnson, who led the Utes with 15 points. “I guarantee they will be toward the top of the conference at the end of the season.”
Senior Brian Greene, the only Ram aside from Nelson in double figures, had 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting, while juniors Ronnie Clark and Darien Chavis contributed with big minutes off the bench.
“I’m just looking to change the tempo of the with my defense,” said Chavis, who scored six points and saw more time with starting point guard Michael Morris in foul trouble. “We have three guards ready to come in and we’re all just as good as each other.”
Though the loss was tough for the Rams to handle, the team knows there is no time to lament with a showdown against an equally hot Brigham Young team tonight.
“This is a disheartening loss, but I’m proud of our guys,” Layer said. “We’ll be ready for BYU. It’s our job.”