Maybe it was an ill-timed mental lapse. Maybe it was the Utes’ defensive pressure. Or maybe it was just a young team showing its youth.
But whatever caused the CSU men’s basketball team’s late second-half collapse against Utah on Saturday night at Moby Arena, it cost the Rams an important home win.
After taking a 54-47 lead with just under 10 minutes to play, the Rams went on an inexplicable cold streak and scored only 12 points the rest of the game, ultimately losing 71-66.
“Those last six minutes, they took it to us. We couldn’t regroup and our shots weren’t falling and theirs were,” Rams center Matt Nelson said. “We’ve been playing well all year, but the second half collapses we’ve been having are pretty heartbreaking. We’ve got to learn to keep our lead and stick with it and not let a team come back in the end.”
During the Utes’ 11-2 run in the final minutes of the game, the lone bright spot for the Rams was sophomore guard Darien Chavis, who pulled CSU within three points after he stole the ball from the Utes’ Marc Jackson and scored a quick layup with two minutes remaining.
“It was an up-and-down game and when I got that steal, I thought we were going to win the game because it switched the momentum,” Chavis said. “And then, somebody came down and hit a jump shot for them and that cleared all our momentum. We have a real young team, so we need to step up, but we’re going to have times like this and I think we can just learn from this right now.”
The situation was all too familiar for the Rams, who caved in similar fashion to the Wyoming Cowboys only two weeks ago. In that game, after an Andy Birley three-pointer gave CSU a seven-point lead with five and a half minutes left in the contest, the Rams scored only six points the rest of the way and lost by two points. That game and Saturday night’s contest with Utah are the only two games CSU has lost at home, but both were conference match-ups the Rams needed to win.
“I thought Colorado State played well, but you have to remember we got a couple of steals at the end, and those steals gave us some easy baskets,” Utah head coach Rick Majerus said.
The Utes, indeed, had three steals in the final six minutes, including two by center Tim Frost, all of which resulted in points for Utah.
CSU head coach Dale Layer said that his players got the shots they wanted against the Utes, but were unable to hit them or stop Utah’s offensive rebounding toward the end of the game.
“I thought we had some open looks that didn’t go down, and I thought they got some second shots that kind of broke our backs,” Layer said. “You’ve got to make big plays, whatever it is: free throws or open shots. You’ve got to play next to perfect to beat the Utes. I thought we fought our hearts out and just came up short.”