The very team that started the Rams’ current losing streak extended it to seven games Saturday afternoon in Moby Arena.
The Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV, led by senior guard Marcus Banks, pulled away from the CSU men’s basketball team in the final minutes to secure a 73-67 win. Banks scored four of his 31 points in the final 30 seconds, handing the Rams their seventh straight defeat and dropping them closer to the bottom of the Mountain West Conference, now only one game out of last place.
“You scratch and claw all night just to pull even, and when you can’t quite get over the hump, it’s hard,” Rams’ head coach Dale Layer said. “Marcus Banks is next to impossible for us to guard. He’s scoring every which way. We knew he was a hard match-up, we had guys that worked hard to try and guard him, but I don’t think anybody was very successful. It didn’t matter who we guarded him with, it wasn’t good enough.”
To go along with his game-high 31 points, Banks added five assists and four steals, playing all but one minute of the game. Banks was equally impressive in the Rebels’ (18-8 overall, 7-5 Mountain West) first victory over the Rams this season, when he scored another 31 points in UNLV’s 33-point dismantling of CSU Feb. 3.
The Rams (14-12, 3-8) tried several defensive strategies against Banks on Saturday, including having 6-foot-8 Brian Greene defend him. But nothing seemed to work.
“They came in and threw all kinds of defense at me and I feel that our team capitalized on that,” Banks said. “It’s kind of hard when a team doesn’t work on a defense all year long. It’s hard to just throw something in there the day before and be aggressive in it and get stops.”
The Rams trailed for most of the game, but managed to tie the contest early in the second half, and then came within two points of the Rebels late in the game. But CSU was plagued by 16 turnovers that allowed UNLV to hold off the Rams in the second half.
“Turnovers are killing us,” said CSU forward Matt Williams, who scored 14 points and kept the game close in the final minutes. “We’ve got to work on finishing out the game. The biggest thing is that this is hurting our confidence so much. If we’re going to be a good team now or in the future, we’ve got to learn how to finish games.”
Asked if there was any way to stop Banks, Williams said, “If there is, I haven’t found it. But he’s going to the NBA next year; he’s a great player. A guy like that is hard to guard. He can score in so many ways and hurt you in so many ways.”
For the Rams, the loss was yet another game in which they kept it close with a win seemingly within reach, but failed to put together a solid run of basketball toward the end of the game.
“We keep working hard, and I think we keep getting better, but it is tough to deal with,” Layer said.
The Rams will attempt to end their seven-game skid tonight against San Diego State in their last game at Moby Arena this season. For seniors Andy Birley and Greene, it will be their last game ever in Fort Collins.