When working on a winning streak, it is not unusual for a team to have an ugly win every once in a while.
That was the case for the CSU men’s basketball team Saturday night at Moby Arena.
The Rams (13-4 overall, 2-0 in Mountain West Conference) defeated a feisty Air Force team 51-49 to extend their home winning streak to a record-tying 14 games.
The victory was neither easy nor pretty, but it was a victory all the same.
“It’s hard to prepare for a team like Air Force,” said head coach Dale Layer, who in his third season as coach is turning the Rams into a force to be reckoned with. “With a team like that, you know every game you’re in a fight.”
Layer and the Rams now have a week to prepare for their next opponent: defending MWC Champion Wyoming (13-3, 1-0).
“That’s a game we all circle on the calendar every year,” said senior forward Brian Greene, who became the 13th player at CSU to score 1,000 career points in a 74-58 victory over New Mexico Jan. 13. “I know I’m really looking forward to it.”
The game is scheduled to tip-off Saturday at Moby at 7 p.m., and will mark the 14th home game for CSU this year, opposed to just four games on the road. With home wins during the break over Washington State, South Carolina, Prairie View and South Florida in addition to the conference wins against New Mexico and Air Force, the Rams have yet to lose at home. Following road losses to Purdue and Colorado over the break, CSU also has yet to win on the road.
Apart from extending their home winning streak to 15 games against the Cowboys, the Rams will also be looking to garner their third win in a conference that Layer said is better than people give it credit for.
“This league is good,” Layer said. “A lot of the teams around the league are jelling and getting better.”
One of those teams is Air Force (9-6, 0-2), which in head coach Joe Scott’s third season is beginning to utilize its frustrating motion offense at the expense of the sanity of opponents.
“This game seemed longer than the Super Bowl,” Layer said following the victory. “It seems like it took five hours.”
The game began with the Rams playing to Air Force’s tempo – swinging the ball from one side of the court to the other – all of which led to a 20-18 Air Force lead at halftime and frustrated Rams offense.
“Air Force slows down so much that you can easily get into a funk,” said Greene, whose 18 points and season-high 15 rebounds led the Rams to victory. “When you’re used to scoring 80 points a game and you can’t get the ball and score, it’s frustrating.”
Thanks to Greene and clutch shooting from freshman point guard Micheal Morris, the Rams managed to get into a rhythm in the second half and pulled out to a 47-39 lead with three minutes to go, but could not put the Falcons away.
Poor free-throw shooting down the stretch – where the Rams missed eight of their final 11 attempts – allowed the Falcons to slowly cut into the lead. Yet, it was not enough for the Falcons in the end.
“Our shot selection was great, everything we wanted was there for us,” said Air Force forward Tom Bellairs, who led the Falcons with 16 points. “We just couldn’t hit the one’s we needed to make.”
The Rams will look to get back to running against the Cowboys when the two high-scoring offenses square off.
“You just have to throw everything out the window when we play,” Greene said. “It’s gonna be a war.”