For the two seniors of the CSU men’s basketball team, the Rams’ loss to the Duke Blue Devils in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday was bittersweet.
Brian Greene and Andy Birley ended their CSU careers as arguably the best tandem in school history. And their first postseason trip in their final season was certainly sweet. But the loss to Duke was still a loss, and it was the final game either will play wearing the Green and Gold.
“It’s sad to come to an end on a losing note, but right now I’m just proud of our team,” Birley said after the game. “It’s sad and I’m going to miss it. It’s tough to lose you’re last game, but you have to look at the big picture.”
Greene and Birley were the first CSU teammates to surpass the 1,000-career scoring mark in the same season and led the Rams to their first NCAA Tournament bid in 13 years.
Greene is one of only two CSU players to be among the career leaders in scoring, rebounding and steals, while Birley’s three three-pointers in the Duke game broke the single-season three-point field goal record, as he finished with 90 on the season. Birley is also the school’s leader in career three-pointers made and attempted.
And their performance against the Blue Devils did not go unnoticed by one of the most renowned coaches in college basketball history.
“Greene and Birley are terrific competitors; I couldn’t help but admire their leadership and poise,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “It’s nice to see seniors playing that hard and leading their team. What a way to finish their careers. If you’re going to go out, that’s the way to go out.”
Against Duke, Greene recorded his 12th career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. His three steals were a big part of a CSU defensive effort that pressured the Blue Devils into 16 turnovers and only 35 percent shooting from the field.
“We came into the tournament with a lot of confidence in our defense,” Greene said. “We knew we could defend them well and we knew that if we played team defense, we would have a chance to win. I thought we played really well, the second half especially.”
Greene and Birley led the Rams to their most prolific scoring season in school history. CSU’s 2,450 points marked the first time the Rams had scored more than 2,300 points in a season, and their 876 field goals made were also a school record.
The Rams’ 19-14 record was the most wins by a CSU team since the 1997-98 season and the team’s Mountain West Tournament Championship was the first conference tournament won by any CSU team in school history.
“I will always remember this,” Birley said. “It’s an unbelievable experience to be able to come to the NCAA Tournament after three years of not being in the postseason. It’s just an unbelievable feeling.”