LAS VEGAS-The CSU menâ€™s basketball team only plays eight players consistently and with forward Greg Smith unavailable in Fridayâ€™s semi-final against San Diego State due to an ankle injury, that number shrank to seven.
And playing on back-to-back nights against the Mountain West regular season champions proved too much for the Rams.
â€œI thought we looked slow,â€ coach Tim Miles said after the game.
CSU shot lights out in the first half, hitting 52 percent of its shots, including 6-11 threes as the Rams took a 39-38 lead into the break.
But after the intermission, the Aztecs came out like a team determined not to lose, while CSU looked like a team that didnâ€™t have anything left in the tank.
San Diego State opened the half with a 3-pointer by James Rahon to take the lead and that sparked the Aztecs to a 21-9 run and just more than five minutes into the half, the Rams found themselves down 59-48.
â€œI think it comes down to us not being as aggressive as we were yesterday,â€ CSU guard Dorian Green said. â€œI think we were kind of letting them dictate a little the things we were doing offensively. We gave up too many offensive rebounds and we werenâ€™t getting as many stops as we did yesterday.â€
The offensive attack that CSU relied on in the first half was nowhere to be found in the second.
â€œWe came in at halftime saying we got to get an upper hand on their shooters, running them off threes, making them drive to the basket,â€ San Diego Stateâ€™s Chase Tapley said.
The Rams shot 11 threes in each half, but in the second they hit only two, and the second one was at the buzzer at the end of the game when the outcome was already decided.
â€œI think we just needed to do a better job of attacking,â€ Green said. â€œIn the first half we were getting easy threes because we were on attack a little bit more. When we get fouled we play a lot better. We can definitely hit threes, but we need to get to the basket.â€
The inside presence that was so key for CSU in its demolition of TCU on Thursday was not present against San Diego State. The Rams did score 30 points in the paint, but they shot only 13 free throws and Will Bell and Pierce Hornung combined for only 13 points and 14 rebounds.
Green had a game-high 20 points for CSU and Jesse Carr had 17, but no other Rams were able to get into a rhythm. Conversely, San Diego State had a handful of players that helped beat CSU.
The Aztecs had five players in double figures and three of their best players carried the play. James Rahon hit 7-12 shots for 15 points while Tapley scored 15 in the second half after scoring only two in the first. And MW Player of the Year Jamaal Franklin scored 19 points, including 3-4 threes, despite being in foul trouble the entire night.
As the second half wore on it became apparent that the Rams did not have the energy that they did on Thursday night. The Rams were a step slow defensively and sloppy on offense.
â€œI thought our lack of depth hurt us,â€ Miles said. â€œâ€¦Gregâ€™s injury affected us because his length and athleticism can really help in a game like this.â€
The loss puts CSU at 20-11 on the season and with a nervous wait until the NCAA Tournament field is announced on Sunday afternoon.
Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Lytle can be reached at email@example.com.