The game had letdown written all over it.
Senior forwards Andy Ogide and Travis Franklin were unable to make an impact due to foul trouble and ineffectiveness. Sophomore guard Wes Eikmeier was held out for the third time in four games with a foot injury. And the team was just days removed from a devastating last-second loss to No. 6 San Diego State.
Yet, the Rams found a way to escape Laramie with a 59-56 win over Wyoming, thanks to major contributions from the bench.
Pierce Hornung delivered his first career double-double, Jesse Carr sparked the offense with drives to the hoop, Will Bell came up with some big defensive stops, and Andre McFarland, who hadnâ€™t scored since Jan. 12, hit a huge three at the end of the first half to tie the game at 31 and give the Rams some momentum after a sluggish half.
CSU (16-7, 6-3 MWC) looked shaky from the start, playing with little energy and no execution. The two teams traded leads throughout the first half as the Rams searched for a spark plug.
They found one in sophomore forward Hornung, who seemed to put the team on his back and will the Rams to their sixth conference victory.
â€œSomebody was going to make a difference, and we were going to do it with energy plays and thatâ€™s what Pierce did,â€ said coach Tim Miles. â€œHe just willed it; he willed that victory by getting offensive rebounds, attacking the glass. He was really important for us.â€
Hornung finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks in 27 minutes of action.
Early in the second half, sophomore guard Carr provided a spark of his own. Filling in nicely for the injured Eikmeier, Carr sprung the Rams to life with cutting drives to the hoop as he pulled the Rams out of their first-half malaise.
â€œBeing aggressive and taking it to the hole on them helped provide a big spark for us offensively,â€ said Carr.
The Rams failed to separate themselves late in the game, once again missing free throws (7-13 on the night) that kept the Cowboys in the game.
After Dorian Green missed a free throw with five seconds left, Francisco Cruz had a chance to tie the game, but his half-court shot fell short.
The win was another example of the impressive depth of the Rams, who often use 10 players in a game.
â€œMe and Andy (Ogide) didnâ€™t have the normal nights we have, Wes (Eikmeier) wasnâ€™t playing,â€ Franklin said, who totaled just eight points. â€œBut we have guys on the bench that can play. They did a good job.â€
It may not have been a vintage performance, but the Rams now sit alone in third place in the conference, one game ahead of UNLV.
â€œThat was a big win for us in the conference standings and our tournament hopes,â€ Franklin said. â€œWe canâ€™t lose games like this to teams with lower RPIâ€™s than us.â€
The Rams now enter a much-needed seven-day break to rest mentally and physically before they face New Mexico next Saturday at Moby Arena.
Menâ€™s basketball Beat Reporter Kevin Lytle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org._