Inside and outside, the Rams were running on all cylinders Monday night in Moby Arena and the Owls of Florida-Atlantic couldn’t stop them.
The Rams wowed the Moby crowd of 2,117 with highflying dunks and aggressive defense en route to an 81-58 victory.
Employing a rotation of strong, post-up players and sharp shooting perimeter threats, head coach Dale Layer saw his team storm out to a 36-28 halftime lead that it never relinquished.
Senior forward Brian Greene and sophomore forward Matt Williams provided most of the punch inside finishing with 16 and 14 points, respectively, while grabbing six and nine rebounds.
From the outside it was business as usual for senior guard Andy Birley, who took advantage of several open looks, finishing with 16 points on 4-of-6 shooting from three-point range.
“I had a good day shooting,” Birley said. “I had some open looks and was able to knock them down. That is my role on this team, to be an outside threat for us.”
It was Birley’s three-point shooting and Williams’ hustle that helped lead the Rams to a 36-28 halftime lead. After that, however, the spark came from tough defense.
With his team up 44-37, Williams put on a defensive display with a block on a shot from Owls forward Robert Williams, and followed it up with a soaring dunk to put the Rams up 46-37.
The Owls answered, however, with two of their own on a jumper from guard Jeff Cowans to cut the Rams’ lead to seven.
Continuing to play strong defensively, the Rams went up by as many as 12, before Cowans cut the Rams’ lead to 10 on a strong drive to the hoop.
Then freshman point guard Michael Morris took over.
With his team up 57-46 and Cowans threatening once again, Morris forced his counterpart into an air ball and followed up the defensive effort by draining a three-pointer, putting the Rams up 60-46.
Two possessions later, Morris had the play of the game when he flew from the left side of the hoop and jammed home an offensive rebound after a missed jumper by Williams.
Not to be outdone, fellow freshman Shelton Johnson contributed to the run with a steal and subsequent lay-up to put the Rams ahead 64-46.
Though he finished the game with 11 points and four assists, Morris said he knows there are some aspects of the game he needs to work on.
“I’ve got to cut down on turnovers,” Morris said. “As the season progresses I can only get more comfortable in the system and everything is gonna come to me.”
By finishing another game with more than 20 turnovers (24), Birley said that is a part of the game the entire team should work on.
“Turnovers were our biggest problem tonight,” Birley said. “We need to do a better job of taking care of the ball and being patient when a team is pressing us. Luckily tonight we played good enough defense and executed well enough on offense to come out with a win.”
Though he gave the Rams credit for their tough defense and overall effort, Florida-Atlantic head coach Sidney Green said he found some areas of the game questionable.
“When a team goes to the line 43 times to our 19 and we get called for 36 fouls to their 19, I have some problems with that,” he said. “I give a lot of credit to Colorado State, but I think those numbers speak for themselves.”
Florida-Atlantic guard Drew Skeeter agreed.
“(CSU) played hard and got the win,” he said. “We felt a couple of fouls could go the other way. This is just one loss against a good non-conference opponent … We’ve just got to take care of business in conference play.”
For now, the 2-0 Rams are taking care of business in every way.