The CSU menâ€™s basketball teamsâ€™ season came to a crashing end Tuesday night with a 62-60 home loss to Fairfield University in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament.
The Stags, regular season champs of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, ran a high pressure defense that CSU failed to properly handle.
The relentless attack on Rams ball-handlers caused a season-high 20 turnovers.
â€œTheir quickness was good. Their physicality affected us,â€ CSU coach Tim Miles said. â€œMentally we wanted it easier than it was going to be.â€
CSU (19-13) took a 31-29 lead into halftime. At one point in the first half the Rams turned the ball over on six straight possessions.
Fairfield (25-7) opened the second half with a quick run and grabbed a 43-37 lead that had the Rams playing catch up.
The Rams did come back, however. An Andre McFarland three-pointer with just over eight minutes remaining gave CSU a 46-45 lead, but after Derek Needham responded with a three-pointer for Fairfield, the Rams never led again.
The Stags were carried down the stretch by guard Yorel Hawkins, who hit four contested shots in the final six minutes of the game
â€œHe just hit shots. He was hitting shots over people,â€ sophomore Greg Smith said of Hawkins. â€œPeople were right in his grill and he just hit shots. Heâ€™s just a good player and he just made plays down the stretch.â€
Hawkins finished the night with 17 points.
CSUâ€™s offense struggled the entire night as waves of pressure came at them. Senior Andy Ogide ended the game as the Ramsâ€™ only double-digit scorer in his collegiate finale, finishing with 13 points and eight rebounds. His counterpart, 7-footer Ryan Olander, finished the night with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Despite shooting only 22.9 percent in the second half, CSU still had a chance to pull out a miraculous finish.
Down four points with just under 10 seconds remaining in the game, the Rams got the ball to guard Dorian Green just beyond the three point arc. As he rose up to shoot he got fouled, but his shot landed just long on the back rim.
The sophomore guard hit all three free throws to bring CSU within one. And after Needham made one of two free throws, the Rams got the ball down two points with four seconds remaining.
The final possession of the season ended in the hands of Wes Eikmeier, whose running three-point attempt fell short of the rim as time expired.
â€œTheyâ€™re a tough-minded group,â€ Miles said. â€œAt the end of the day they just out-toughed us.â€
The loss closes the book on a season in which CSU received votes in the top-25 polls and looked likely to receive an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament at one point. After an 18-7 start to the season, the Rams stumbled down the stretch losing six of its final seven games.
Menâ€™s Basketball Beat Reporter Kevin Lytle can be reached at email@example.com.