On Saturday, for the first time since Dec. 28, the CSU menâ€™s basketball team won a game on the road.
And it couldnâ€™t have come at a better time.
The Rams (19-10, 8-6 MW) are in the midst of a battle for an NCAA Tournament berth and carry a solid resume, but their biggest weakness was a 2-9 road record, which included zero conference wins away from Moby Arena.
While the 75-65 win over Air Force (13-15, 3-11) doesnâ€™t atone for a seasonâ€™s worth of road woes, it does give the selection committee a final positive memory of the regular season.
â€œI think it was critical to getting into the NCAA Tournament,â€ CSU coach Tim Miles said. â€œI think a road win was vital; I think another win was more vital. I don’t think it probably ends here. That’s the way it is this time of year.”
Last season Air Force ended the Ramsâ€™ Tournament hopes by beating them 74-57 in Colorado Springs. On Saturday CSU opened the game like a team determined to not let history repeat itself.
CSU jumped out to an 11-point lead within the first seven minutes of the game, led by the aggressive play of Dorian Green, who scored seven early points.
But Air Force clawed its way back into the game with terrific shooting from behind the 3-point line.
The Falcons hit 8-11 threes in the first half as they clawed their way back to within three at the intermission.
It was more of the same in the second half as every time CSU seemed like it was going to pull away, Air Force hit another three.
The key sequence of the back-and-forth game then came midway through the second half, with CSU up 57-56.
Air Force turned the ball over, Wes Eikmeier went for a layup but was rejected by Max Yon. On the ensuing Falcons possession Eikmeier stole the ball from Yon, who then fouled the CSU guard.
After the foul Yon got a technical for arguing with officials.
That gave Eikmeier a chance to shoot two free throws for the technical followed by a one-and-one for the foul. He made all four from the line to give CSU a 61-56 lead.
â€œNot very often in basketball does someone get to take four shots before anyone else touches the ball,â€ Eikmeier said. â€œI think that was a momentum shift. They were a little bit on the hop â€” that kind of took the wind out of their sails a little bit.â€
Not only did the sequence help CSU build its lead, it also helped get Eikmeier hot. He assisted on a Will Bell dunk on the next possession then hit a three the next time down, one of his five threes on the night. He finished the game with 23 points, giving him a season average of 16, second in the Mountain West.
The Rams now go into the MW Tournament as the No. 4 seed and will face TCU (17-13, 7-7 MW) on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. MST.
“This definitely helps, but what we just talked about in the locker room is we’ve got to keep winning,â€ Green said. â€œYou never know what’s going to happen. We’ve just got to go into the Mountain West Conference Tournament with the mindset that we’ve got to win all three to get in. Just keep winning, because if you win, you can’t get hurt.”
Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Lytle can be reached at email@example.com.
Final: CSU-75 AFA-65
Top scorer: Wes Eikmeier, 23 points
Up next: TCU vs. CSU: first round of MW Tournament
When: Thursday, 3:30 p.m. MST
Where: Las Vegas, Nev.