If the game were 36 minutes long instead of 40, the young CSU men’s basketball team could potentially have a few more ticks in the win column this season. As it stands, the Rams saw yet another close game slip away late, allowing the Texas Christian Horned Frogs (11-6, 3-1 MWC) to engineer a 14-4 run at the end of the game and blemish an otherwise impressive effort for CSU (6-11, 0-3 MWC) with a final score of 70-58 Saturday afternoon at Moby Arena.
The loss leaves the Rams winless in the conference thus far.
Coach Tim Miles admitted that his team ran out of gas at the end of the game, and was unable to maintain the kind of pressure they wanted.
“Our margin of error is so slim,” Miles said. “I think that’s depth. I think some of our kids got a little tired.”
With senior center Stuart Creason relegated to street clothes due to a foot injury, the Rams were forced to rotate players into the five spot who were unfamiliar or physically undersized for the position, creating mismatch problems and a stifled low post game for most of the afternoon.
Freshman forward Flynn Clayman and sophomore center Ronnie Aguliar (making the second start of his career) filled the block for Creason, notching a combined eight points and ten rebounds. Clayman fouled out with 11:24 left in the game, leaving the team with little presence down low for a significant stretch.
“They’re taller, they’re stronger.that obviously got me into foul trouble,” Clayman said of the TCU post players. “At this level I haven’t had to play the five that much.”
One bright spot of the game was the continued dominance of junior guard Marcus Walker. Entering the game, Walker was averaging 16.8 points per game, including a 20.4 PPG average in the last five games. Keeping his hot streak alive, Walker would finish with a team-high 25 points (17 in the first half), two steals, two assists, and two rebounds. He was 10-10 from the free throw line.
Still, Walker was quick to shoulder the blame for the team’s shortcomings, sighting his cold shooting in the second half that led to just two field goals.
“I think I let the team down. I had more than a couple mistakes at the end,” Walker said. “It’s something that I’ve got to correct and I take the fall for it. I just didn’t knock down shots.”
Freshman forward Andre McFarland picked up nine points and three rebounds while junior Willis Gardner notched four points, three assists, and three steals.
The Rams opened the game aggressively, rolling out a 10-3 run that included six quick points from Walker.
The Horned Frogs would rally from the early deficit, jumping out in front by six (24-18) with 6:53 left in the half as the Rams shooting went cold. Following the media timeout and a few choice words from Miles, the Rams returned to their early form, igniting a 14-0 run while ramping up the defense and holding the Frogs to a 35-second shot clock violation.
The Frogs closed the half with seven straight points to shrink the CSU lead to one (32-31) heading into the break.
CSU continues a disappointing stretch of games, losing nine of their last 11 through December and early January. The stretch includes a three-point home loss to Nevada-Las Vegas and a road blowout at the hands of a talented Brigham Young team.
The team travels to Colorado Springs on Tuesday to take on the Air Force Falcons (10-6, 2-1 MWC). Game time is set for 8 p.m.