Feb 052012
 
Authors: Kevin Lytle

Every team has that one player who, while not being the most skilled or top-scoring player, gets a raucous reception from the home crowd every time he enters the game.

It was J.J. Barea on the champion Dallas Mavericks last season. For the Denver Nuggets it’s Chris “Birdman” Andersen.

For the CSU men’s basketball team, it’s forward Pierce Hornung.

And on Saturday’s 67-49 win over the Air Force Academy, Hornung was much more than a useful role player, he was the catalyst that carried CSU to victory.

“Good win. Thank God for Pierce,” coach Tim Miles said succinctly after the game.

Hornung set the tone early, grabbing three rebounds, two of them offensive, in the first two minutes of the game.

By halftime the junior had eight points and seven rebounds and CSU was up seven points despite shooting only 35 percent from the floor.

“I definitely felt like I was in a rhythm out there,” Hornung said. “I felt like I was in the right place a lot of times.”

To start the second half, Hornung once again helped set the direction of the half.

He scored six points, all in the paint, in the first three minutes as the CSU lead grew to double-digits for good.

CSU ended up shooting 42 percent from the field, and hit only 4-of-22 three-point attempts, but were able to maintain the lead because of Hornung’s play on the glass.

“Every time we took a bad shot he’d get it back for us and give us a chance to take another bad shot,” Miles said.

Hornung finished the game tied for a career-high with 17 rebounds. Of those, nine were on the offensive end.

“You just have to stay active,” Hornung said on how he gets rebounds. “Coach Miles calls it multiple efforts. You can’t just make one move and give up, you have to make them box you out through multiple efforts and moves.”

But even more impressive than his rebounding prowess was his scoring dominance. Hornung, who averages eight points per game, has been pushed for years by Miles to be more aggressive offensively.

On Saturday, he was. Hornung scored a career-high 23 points, his previous best was 15. He hit 8-of-10 shots and 7-of-10 free throws.

Against a small AFA team, winning the paint was key. Hornung scored 16 of his points inside, helping CSU to outscore AFA 30-14 inside.

“We talked about the past two days: win the paint, you win the game,” Hornung said. “Sometimes the threes don’t fall, but we did a good job of stepping up and attacking down low and winning the paint.”

For this game at least, the player who does the dirty work for CSU got his day in the spotlight, as the crowd of 4,359 gave him a standing ovation when he left the game for good with three minutes remaining.

“Pierce was our knight in shining armor,” Miles said.

Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Lytle can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

Hornung’s big day
Points: Career-high 23 (16 in the paint)
Rebounds: 17 (tied for a career-high)
Field goals: 8-10

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