The dream looked dead. The Dance was cancelled. Just like last season, UNLV was going to sink the CSU men’s basketball team’s NCAA Tournament hopes.
By halftime the Rams (18-10, 7-6 MW) looked dead in the water. UNLV (24-7, 8-5 MW) was up 41-26 and was shooting white-hot. The Runnin’ Rebels hit 7-of-12 threes in the first half, including 4-of-5 from long distance for Oscar Bellfield.
But it all changed after halftime.
“In the locker room I think we were just frustrated,” CSU guard Dorian Green said. “We were playing awful. We kind of just talked about what we had to do and we came out. We knew we had to chip away. We wrote three things on the board (at halftime) and one of them was ‘chip away.’ ”
And the Rams did just that. They cut the lead 14, then 11, then 10, then eight and before you knew it, CSU was down 52-50 with just under 10 minutes remaining and the crowd of 8,371 at Moby Arena was going ballistic.
After cutting the deficit to two, CSU had three straight possessions with a chance to tie the game or take the lead, but the Rams couldn’t score.
Finally Bellfield missed a three and Green got the ball at the other end and drove to the basket, making the layup and getting fouled. His free throw gave CSU its first lead of the game.
From there CSU relied on its stellar defense to hold the lead. Every time UNLV had a chance to tie the game or take the lead, the Rams forced a miss. And with 46 seconds left in the game, Pierce Hornung put an exclamation mark on the victory with a huge block of Anthony Marshall.
“We’ve certainly had some difficult losses this year and this is absolutely right at the top,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said.
The Rams then sealed the 66-59 win at the foul line.
UNLV scored only six points in the final 10 minutes of the game and 18 total in the second half. And after shooting 47 percent in the first half, UNLV hit only 27 percent of its shots after the break, including only 1-of-9 3-pointers.
“There was not a schematic thing we talked about,” CSU coach Tim Miles said about halftime changes. “It was just play in stance, make them feel you, guard the ball, get to your shrink spots, block out and rebound.”
Offensively in the second half one of CSU’s key juniors took on the role of a leader that wouldn’t let the Rams lose. Green scored only two points in the first half, but in the second he scored 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
“I was forcing my way through there, to be honest,” Green said. “I was just at times putting my head down and getting to the basket and trying to make plays.”
The win finishes off CSU’s home schedule. The Rams won 13-straight at Moby to finish the season and went undefeated at home in conference play for the first time since 1960-61.
And as unlikely as it seemed at the end of the first half, CSU was able to come back and get one of the biggest wins in program history as it looks for its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2002-03.
“Name the alley. Name the foxhole. Name the bet,” Miles said. “I’m taking these guys.”
Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Lytle can be reached at email@example.com.