If the Rams could play Air Force every game, things would be a lot brighter for the CSU men’s basketball team.
Instead, the teams only see each other twice a year, and for whatever reason, those are the games CSU finds a way to win rather than lose.
The Rams and Falcons met for the second time this year Monday night, and CSU notched its second Mountain West Conference victory of the year, its first on the road. After trailing nearly the entire first half, the Rams led for all but a few minutes in the second half on their way to a 59-51 win.
Unlike the first meeting, a 60-57 CSU win on Jan. 26 in which the Rams led the whole game, CSU got down early Monday. Air Force jumped out to an 8-2 lead and widened the margin to 10 points with just over five minutes left in the first half. But then the Rams played some defense.
Without the Falcons scoring a single point in the final five minutes of the first half, CSU used an 11-0 run to finally regain the lead by halftime, 27-26. It was only the third time the Rams were ahead at the intermission in MWC play this year. The two other games were against these Falcons and against UNLV last Monday, both at home.
“We struggled early and got hurt on some backdoor cuts,” CSU head coach Dale Layer said. “But all the preparation started sinking in after we got through most of the first half.”
The poor start to the game could be attributed to lingering effects of Saturday’s 72-60 loss at New Mexico. In front of 16,832 at “The Pit,” the Rams shot just 37 percent from the field. They shot 57 percent Monday at Clune Arena, the team’s best shooting night since Dec. 15 against Denver.
“It’s hard to prepare for Air Force after playing a team like New Mexico,” junior forward Brian Greene said. “It’s hard to come back in front of 17,000 people. But tonight we were more prepared and played with more passion than at New Mexico.”
Greene got back to his scoring ways, recording a game-high 19 points, following a lackluster 12-point performance in Albuquerque. Usually a midrange jumper-type of shooter, Greene threw down three dunks on the Falcons. Greene also hit the boards with reckless abandon, pulling down 12 rebounds, another a game high. In doing so, he became the first Ram since Matt Barnett in 1998 to grab 200 rebounds in a season.
That fact, coupled with redshirt freshman center Matt Nelson’s 18 points, exposed the Falcons’ significant height disadvantage. Air Force head coach Joe Scott continuously double-teamed Nelson down low, vowing not to let the 7-footer dominate his smaller Falcons like he did back in January.
The attempt failed.
“We knew we were bigger inside, so we tried to attack the basket,” Greene said. “Our inside game opened up our outside game tonight.” n