A CSU defense that limped through the first half came to life after halftime and carried the Rams to an 83-70 victory over Southwest Minnesota State on Saturday.
â€œI thought we were overextended early in the first half with our screenable defense,â€ said CSU coach Tim Miles, who led the SMSU Mustangs to a 78-39 record as their head coach from 1997 to 2001. â€œWe backed off in the second half, and that was much better for us.â€
CSU had just come off of a win four days ago over CSU-Pueblo, where Miles and the 2,241 others watching in Moby Arena discovered that the Rams couldnâ€™t defend against the ThunderWolves at a level they were comfortable with.
The team slaved over changing this in the practices leading up to their final exhibition match against SMSU â€“â€“ their last chance to tune-up before the regular season starts.
In the initial moments of the game, the Rams were afraid they hadnâ€™t improved in this area at all.
â€œBasically, the first half wasnâ€™t good enough. We kind of saw the same glimpse of defense that we saw against Pueblo,â€ said guard Wes Eikmeier, who led the Rams scoring 23 points in the contest. â€œThatâ€™s not the team you want to be.â€
CSU and SMSU were virtually tied 42-41 at the end of the first half. The Rams ran a defense that left their opponents wide open to receive passes deep in the paint, leading the Mustangs to shoot 13 percent higher in the first half than in the second.
â€œThey were different. You donâ€™t face many teams that can have all five guys on the court shoot,â€ Eikmeier said. â€œ â€¦ You can see that we struggled with it a little bit in the first half when they were skipping the ball around knocking down wide-open shots.â€
But second half was a different story.
SMSU went from making 55 to 27 percent of their field goals. They made less three-pointers as well, dropping from 50 to 20 percent.
Besides a â€œless than humaneâ€ locker room talk at halftime, Miles said what motivated the dramatic change in CSUâ€™s defense in the second half had to do with how self-assured the Rams felt on court.
â€œSometimes young people donâ€™t want to get out of their comfort zone. To play excellent defense, you have to push through your comfort zone,â€ he said. â€œUntil we do that consistently, weâ€™re going to be an inconsistent defensive team.â€
The Rams have been looking to fill a void left by senior players who had long carried the teamâ€™s scoring load, but graduated last year â€“â€“ a search thatâ€™s still in the works and is affecting their ability to deliver an unchanging defensive performance.
â€œWeâ€™re a completely different team,â€ Miles said. â€œItâ€™s the same program, the same guys have been in it. But itâ€™s different roles, different expectations. And that takes time for adjustments, and itâ€™s going to take time for us to develop those things â€“â€“ that consistency, that leadership.â€
Senior Reporter Andrew Carrera can be reached at email@example.com.