‘Late-game collapse’ is a phrase that has become all too synonymous with CSU’s men’s basketball team this season. And the team’s performance Saturday in Laramie, Wyo., did nothing to change that.
Down by 12 early in the second half, the Rams battled back on the strength of clutch three-point shooting from senior Andy Birley, consistent post scoring from sophomore Matt Nelson, and clutch defense from everyone on the court. But, as has become customary during the team’s season-high six-game losing streak, it was not enough.
A late turnover on their last possession of a 60-60 game cost the Rams an opportunity to take a lead and gave Wyoming the chance to win the game with 19 seconds left. The Cowboys did not throw away their chance.
“We knew they were going to go with a ball screen and wanted to draw a charge,” head coach Dale Layer said of the last sequence. “I thought Nelly did a good job of getting into position to draw a charge. It was a call we thought could have been called.”
The referees, however, did not make the call and with Nelson out of position to get a defensive rebound, opposing center Uche Nsonwu-Amadi tipped in guard Jay Straight’s lay-up to give Wyoming its winning 62-60 margin.
“In a game like this it’s usually not the first shot that beats you,” Wyoming head coach Steve McClain said. “Lucky for us, Uche was there to put it in.”
Luck, among other things is something the Rams have been lacking during their current string of losses.
“We’ve played well five of the last six games,” Layer said. “We made some big plays down the stretch, unfortunately we didn’t make enough of them.”
As with any late-game loss, which the Rams are all too familiar with, it was execution in the final moments that did the team in.
“The effort was there,” said Birley, who scored 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting. “For us it’s just a matter of executing down the stretch. It’s frustrating because we know we can beat any team in this league on any given night. We had our chance with 37 seconds left and just didn’t execute. We didn’t get it done.”
Offensively, the Rams showed why they are among the league leaders in most shooting categories, shooting 55 percent for the game and 71 percent in the second half. And it was the big man down low who led the way.
“They were playing behind the post all game so I could go left or right,” said Nelson, who scored a game-high 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting. “Lucky for me, my shots were falling.”
Nelson’s offensive presence was something McClain said he prepared his team for by having the Cowboys work on shutting down everyone else.
“I’ve always believe that if a guy is a good player he’s going to get his,” McClain said. “We did a good job against Greene and Birley and that is what we were focusing on. You don’t worry about a guy like Nelson; you know he’s going to score, you just don’t want a guy like Birley to beat you with a three.”
With a once promising conference season winding down, the Rams now focus on ending their losing streak in Moby Arena next weekend.
“We’re going to be at home the next to games and we have to come out and win those games,” Nelson said. “It’s crucial we get some home wins.”
In the meantime, Birley said the Rams will focus on improving on the little things that could take them to the next level.
“There is stuff you need to improve on if you want to be at the top of the league,” Birley said. “We just haven’t done that yet.”