It wasnâ€™t a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but the CSU menâ€™s basketball team got the result it wanted in its season opener, a 64-58 win over the University of Montana.
CSU struggled in its two exhibition games on defense while being carried by an explosive offense. But on Friday the script was flipped.
The offense stumbled throughout, shooting only 40 percent while committing 13 turnovers compared to only four assists.
â€œSometimes it felt like things were kind of stagnant compared to the way weâ€™re usually playing,â€ said guard Wes Eikmeier who led the Rams with 21 points. â€œ…we did get a little stagnant, but once we move the ball around and be aggressive itâ€™s better.â€
But the defense, which has been coach Tim Milesâ€™ biggest concern early in the season, was stellar.
Montana shot only 41 percent, and CSU won the rebounding battle 43-24, led by forward Pierce Hornung.
The junior recorded his second career double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds, the biggest of which came with a minute remaining.
The Rams were up by three when Dorian Green missed a shot. But Hornung grabbed the loose ball and got it to Eikmeier, forcing Montana to foul.
CSU was able to execute from the free-throw line and close out the game.
â€œHeâ€™s always been that (important to us),â€ Miles said. â€œIf we can keep him in the game, he finally quit fouling. Pierce would always play that much but he always found himself in (foul trouble)…Pierce isnâ€™t going to make a bad decision. Usually Pierce is a guy thatâ€™s going to do the right thing.â€
The Rams now head to Palo Alto, Calif. for the prestigious National Invitational Tournament Season Tip-Off where they will face Southern Methodist University on Monday.
Based on results, they will face either Fresno State or Stanford on Tuesday. If CSU wins both games it will go to Madison Square Garden in New York for the NIT Final Four.
â€œYou play these events because its a chance to put your program on the national map of college basketball,â€ Miles said. â€œ…tournaments like that are a great opportunity to travel, play some high quality opponents, have a chance to win, travel somewhere even more important, more exciting. Have a chance to win.â€
Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Lytle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Score: Montana: 58 CSU: 64
Top scorer: Wes Eikmeier, 21 points
Next: CSU vs. Southern Methodist University
When: Monday, 6 p.m.
Where: Palo Alto, Calif. (NIT Season Tip-Off)