Tyler Smith was glad to finally make his debut on the court for the Rams, and they were certainly just as happy to see him in uniform.
The Rams guard, a junior college transfer who sat out the Rams two exhibition games while serving a suspension, poured in 26 points, 18 of those in the second half, as the Rams came from behind to defeat the CSU-Pueblo Thunderwolves 76-67 on Friday.
Jason Smith, the Rams’ returning all-Mountain West Conference selection, who scored 19 points, credited Tyler Smith (no relation) as the difference in the win.
“Tyler (Smith) was the difference,” said the Rams junior forward. “He played his heart out. He is an amazing player that has a sense on the court of what to do.”
Rams coach Dale Layer was also very pleased with Tyler Smith’s play.
“Tyler had a terrific game,” he said. “I thought he might be rusty, but at the end of the first half and beginning of the second he took it to another level.”
Despite the Thunderwolves being a Division II squad and counting the game as an exhibition, Layer wasn’t surprised they keeping the game close, especially after they had beaten Denver University 84-46 on Nov. 4.
“We knew it would be quite a challenge, as any team that beat Denver by 38 is good,” he said. “They shot threes well, and coach (Patrick) Eberhart gets them to play hard.”
After a back-and-forth first half that saw nine lead changes, the Thunderwolves used an 11-2 run to go ahead 33-28 at the half. But in the second half, the Rams buckled down on defense, and both Tyler Smith and Jason Smith stepped up.
The two Smiths combined for 29 of the Rams 46 second-half points, but it was Tyler Smith’s scoring that really propelled the Rams into control of the game.
“I think I can do this on a nightly basis,” Tyler Smith said. “I just listen to my coaches and do what they tell me, and the coaches kept calling my number.”
Major Willette, a senior guard, led the Thunderwolves with 22 points, including a 3-4 performance from three-point range.
Thunderwolves Head Coach Patrick Eberhart was pleased with his team.
“I was proud of my kids, we competed and played hard,” he said.
Eberhart also went on to complement the performance of Tyler Smith.
“He’s a wonderful player,” he said. “He is a gamer. When the game is on the line, he made shots, and that’s what helped their team.”
Basketball beat writer Matt Pucak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.