With the first sellout crowd in over three years looking on, the CSU men’s basketball team gave the defending conference champion Wyoming Cowboys all they could handle Saturday night in Moby Arena, but couldn’t get find the final shot they needed in the closing seconds.
Trailing by two points with under 10 seconds to play, senior guard Andy Birley drove the length of the court after a missed Wyoming free throw and attempted a three-pointer to win the game, but his bid went wide, sealing the 79-77 win for the Cowboys.
“That was a heck of a college basketball game,” Rams’ head coach Dale Layer said. “I thought that in a game like this, it comes down to the little things, and I thought they were able to execute tougher things in crucial situations. But we’ll bounce back, it’s a long season and that was a good basketball team we lost to. We’ll live to fight another day.”
The Rams (13-5, 2-1 MWC) had their chances in the final minute of the game, and even took a 77-76 lead with 33 seconds left after senior forward Brian Greene grabbed an offensive rebound and made the put-back. But as he had done all game for the Cowboys (15-3, 3-0 MWC), senior guard Donta Richardson found a way to slice through the CSU defense and scored on a drive to the hoop to give Wyoming the lead for good.
Richardson played all 40 minutes for the Cowboys and finished with 22 points, five rebounds and three steals.
“We love to play CSU, they always give us a good game and it was a fight,” Wyoming center Uche Nsonwu-Amadi said. “This is one game we look forward to. It was fun out there, and there was energy from both sides of the crowd.”
Nsonwu-Amadi and Rams’ center Matt Nelson battled each other throughout the night, and both kept their respective team in the game when it appeared the other team was ready to pull away. Nsonwu-Amadi continued to average a double-double, finishing with 12 points and 11 rebounds, while Nelson dropped a game-high 23 points on the Cowboy’s center from Nigeria.
“This will be in the back of our heads when we go up there to Wyoming,” Nelson said. “We proved today that we can hang with them and we can hang with anyone in the league and it’s just a matter of time before we come out on top.”
The Cowboys opened the game with a run that threatened to end the Border War before it even started for the Rams. With a large contingent of Wyoming fans letting the Rams know they were in the house, the Cowboys jumped out to leads of 9-1 and 13-5 before CSU was able to battle back and tie the game at 17. From there, both teams traded runs, but neither squad could claim more than a seven-point lead for the rest of the game.
The Rams trailed 31-30 at halftime, at which point Birley had only one point for the Rams. But the senior guard from Battle Ground, Wa., quickly found his stroke in the second half, connecting on five three-pointers to help the Rams keep the lead for most of the second half.
“We came close, but that’s not what we’re looking for, we’re not trying to come close, we’re trying to win games like that,” said Birley, who finished with 16 points and two assists. “It was a good effort, and I give Wyoming credit, but we can play with them. It’s just a matter of winning games like that.”
In the locker room after the game, none of the Rams seemed content with the moral victory of hanging with last year’s conference champion. And no Ram player showed that feeling more than Greene.
“We think we’re better than them. I think we have a better team than them,” Greene said. “They played a little harder at times than us tonight, but we knew we could fight back. It’s our home court, we weren’t going to let them have an easy one. And they made a big play at the end of the game. We didn’t.”