Something special is brewing in Fort Collins and it has nothing to do with a smooth-drinking malt beverage.
Giving a top-notch performance in every facet of the game, CSU’s men’s basketball team took it to Gardner-Webb University Saturday night, beating the Runnin’ Bulldogs 90-63. The win gives the Rams their seventh consecutive home win – dating back to last season – and brings their record to 6-2.
The game was never close as Gardner-Webb (1-4), looking to get off to a quick start, came out shooting.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the shots weren’t falling. They missed their first six shots before forward Brain Bender finally hit a three-pointer to make it a 5-3 game.
That, however, was as close as the Bulldogs would get for the rest of the game.
With the offense flowing, senior guard Andy Birley was able to get some open looks. And he took advantage of them by hitting all three of his three-point attempts in the first half en route to 11 first half points. His hot hand helped the Rams take a 45-23 halftime lead.
It was the same story in the second half as Birley hit his first two three-pointers in the first three minutes of the second half as the Rams added to their lead.
Birley finished the game with a game-high 23 points on 8-of-9 shooting, including 7-of-8 from beyond the arc.
“My teammates got me some open looks early on and I was fortunate to be able to knock them down,” Birley said.
Playing strong defense all night, the Rams were able to hold the Bulldogs – a team that was shooting 42 percent from the field going into the game – to a season-low 29.7 percent from the field on 22-of-74 shooting.
“Our defense set the tone early and often,” head coach Dale Layer said. “When that team gets open looks they knock ’em down, but we never let them get into a rhythm.”
Layer added that Birley’s hot shooting also had a big impact on the team’s success.
“When he shoots like he did tonight, it gives us a whole new dimension and allows us to open up our offense,” Layer said.
The Rams also got some big game efforts from the bench as forward Quantone Smith contributed to the scoring with a season-high 14 points in 16 minutes.
“Quantone was the most active and the most aggressive that he’s been so far this season,” Layer said of the senior. “I’m glad he came out and had that kind of night.”
Junior guard Ronnie Clark also contributed to the victory in a big way, scoring 13 points and grabbing a career-high 13 rebounds in netting the first double-double in his college career.
Though the Bulldogs have already played against some major conference teams this season such as Tennessee and Georgia Tech, Gardner-Webb head coach Rick Scruggs said CSU is the toughest, most complete team he has coached against this year.
“Colorado State was a whole lot better, quicker and more athletic out there tonight,” Scruggs said. “This team really carries Dale Layer’s trademark of great defense, aggressiveness and execution.”
Though the schedule gets increasingly more difficult for the Rams with home games against Denver, Washington State and South Carolina looming, Layer said the improved health of his players gives him more options and a larger rotation of players.
“Right now we are more healthy than we’ve been and are getting in more of a rhythm,” he said. “We really used our depth effectively tonight.”
The Rams look to bring their winning streak at Moby to eight games Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. against DU.