DENVER The last time the CSU men�s basketball team beat a
team this badly, it was playing at the Pepsi Center.
CSU knocked off Pepperdine 91-65 on Jan. 3 in Denver, only to
battle injuries and lose 11 of its next 14 games, including
On Thursday, the Rams had a glorious return to the Mile High
City, upsetting regular-season Mountain West Conference champion
Air Force 60-48 in the first round of the Mountain West Conference
Tournament. After winning the conference tournament in Las Vegas
last year as the No. 6 seed, the Rams will try to repeat this
CSU will face UNLV in the semifinals at 10 p.m. Friday on
Lesser men would’ve quit four or five weeks ago, Rams head coach
Dale Layer said of the team’s struggles. But these guys made big
plays and never stopped practicing hard.
The Rams won the game on a dominant stretch to end the first
half and start the second. After Air Force tied the score 18-18
with about four minutes left in the first half, the Rams went on a
7-2 run to close the half, then exploded on an 18-3 run in the
first 6:23 of the second half to lead 43-23.
“We didn’t play particularly well for 30 minutes of the game,”
Air Force head coach Joe Scott said. “I thought they won the game
in the first half.”
CSU flew all over the court during the run, forcing turnovers,
blocking shots and passing the ball for open looks. Junior forward
Matt Williams, who didn’t shoot in the first half, scored nine
points early in the second half before picking up his fourth
CSU shut down the Falcons’ outside shooting threats. Air Force
made just made 4-of-14 3-point attempts on the night and shot just
38 percent in the first half. The 48 points by the Falcons were the
lowest total CSU has given up in a game this season.
“In practice we emphasized taking the 3-ball away,” center Matt
The Rams started playing tentatively, however, and the Falcons
responded with a 21-7 run of their own to cut the lead to six
points with 1:52 to play. The Falcons three-guard tandem of A.J.
Kuhle, Tim Keller and Antoine Hood starting shooting the ball
better, and pressure defense kept the Rams out of the rhythm they
had early in the second half. CSU took only eight shots, missing
them all, in the last 12:54 of the game.
“We tried to shorten the game, but we got a little too
tentative,” Layer said. “But we forced them to do one of two
things: shoot quick, which they didn’t do, or shorten the game and
take our chances.”
Air Force would get no closer than six, however, and Rams guards
Dwight Boatner and Jon Rakiecki hit key free throws down the
stretch to seal the victory. CSU had one of its best performances
of the season from the line, hitting 20-of-23 free throws in the
second half after missing the team’s only attempt in the first
“We couldn’t get it below six,” Scott said. “They did a good job
of not turning the ball over and hitting their free throws down the
The Rams shot 52 percent in the first half on the heels of a
fast start by senior forward Ronnie Clark. Clark went 5-for-5 from
the floor for 10 first-half points. He led the Rams with 14 points
and eight rebounds.
The Rams have had problems with turnovers all season, but were
even with the Falcons on turnovers Thursday with 14 a piece.
Center Matt Nelson was a non-factor in the first nine minutes of
the game but was instrumental in the Rams’ big run. He finished
with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting. Four Rams players finished in
“(Nelson is) a big guy and takes up a lot of space,” said Falcon
forward Joel Gerlach. “We always had a couple of guys around him,
which opened up their guard play.”
CSU beat both New Mexico and UNLV at home, but lost to the teams
on the road.
“That was a huge victory,” Boatner said. “We knew all along that
we could play with anybody in this league.”