The CSU Rams had one of their two seniors leave in the first half with an ankle sprain, had their most consistent shooter go just 1-8 from the field, and saw the Northern Colorado Bears dictate the play for much of the game. It wasn’t a recipe for success.
Still, the Rams survived, keyed by 31 points from their other senior, Marcus Walker, and a defense that was able to hold the Bears down the stretch, as they improved to 2-0 with an 85-74 victory Tuesday night in Moby Arena.
“We always talk about just finding a way to win, and tonight we just did,” said CSU head coach Tim Miles. “Harvey Perry said something in the locker room — that this game was won in practice because our scout team brought energy and made it hard for us to guard them, and they attacked us. And he is right, that is as good as any other comment you can make.”
The game was in doubt until there was 1:31 left, when Walker hit a dagger to extend a four-point CSU lead to 77-70, and UNC wasn’t able to make a comeback as the Rams closed them out from the free throw line. “I don’t necessarily have to be a scorer this year, but when you look at certain situations, people look at you to (step up), so I have to be a leader,” said Walker, who went 9-18 from the field and 10-13 on free throws.
The Rams lost senior point guard Willis Garnder in the first half when he injured his left ankle, which was labeled as a sprain by CSU, but they were expecting to do more tests.
His loss left the Rams with just one other true point guard, freshman Jesse Carr who already had three fouls, and forced Walker to play more at the point, which didn’t affect his ability to score.
The game was a back-and-forth affair, as UNC seemed to surpass the Rams in physicality for over half of the game, until CSU started to respond early in the second half.
Andy Ogide had a huge dunk on one end of the court, and then fouled Jabril Banks on the other end of the court, leading to an exchange of words between the two.
Later in the half, Harvey Perry followed-up a Josh Simmons miss with a huge, one-handed put-back over a number of players, which was the central play of a 16-2 CSU run.
“(Perry landed on) my shoulders, the other team’s shoulders; everybody’s shoulders,” said Ogide, who had 13 points and nine rebounds before fouling out. “I didn’t even know who dunked it, I just saw Harvey come down.”
Miles credited the UNC defense for making it difficult on the Rams, and it seemed early in the game that the Rams weren’t prepared to respond, until the second half plays fired them up.
“All week coaches have been talking about how much more physical they were than us, how we were more finesse, and sometimes you just have to go out there and shut coach up,” said Walker.
The Bears were led by Jefferson Mason, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and were sparked by Devon Beitzel who 13 points. Five different Bears finished in double figures, compared to just two for the Rams.
UNC coach Tad Boyle offered up what may have been the best recap of the game.
“We had no answer for Marcus Walker, that’s obvious,” said Boyle.
Men’s basketball beat writer Matthew Pucak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.